Posts Tagged ‘Rick Nelson’

Some Thoughts On Thanksgiving 2008

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 27, 2008

Well, it’s Thanksgiving, at least here in the United States.

Other places, I imagine it’s an ordinary Thursday, but here, it’s a day when we feast – those of us who can, that is. As we feast, however, we should also consider the lives of others, both near and distant.

From news reports over the past few days, it’s evident that even here in one of the most blessed nations on Earth, there are people who need the help of others to afford even the most basic of Thanksgiving dinners. The Galilean told his disciples, “The poor we have always with us.” He’s still correct two thousand years later, and I often wonder why we in this nation, in this community of nations, aren’t doing more to be proving him wrong.

And I don’t know the answer. I think the answer – if there is one – gets lost in a morass of politics, economics, theology and ethics. And all the wrangling through those topics doesn’t get us one step closer to putting onto the plate of a poor child a meal of beans and sausage, never mind turkey with the trimmings.

I think, however, that more and more frequently in years to come, those of us fortunate to live in basic comfort – a comfort that must seem like unimaginable affluence to many in the world – will learn what it is like to live on the edge of want and need. It might do us some good, as it might instill in us as people a caring awareness of how fragile life and wellness have been for many who have lived on that edge for years, for decades, for centuries.

Many of us already have that caring awareness, that empathy necessary for us to understand the lives of others, an empathy that one would hope would lead to a driving desire to improve the lives of those others. Perhaps, in what appears to be a coming time of constraint and restraint, those who have not yet shown that trait can learn it. And when better times come again – as we all hope they will – perhaps more of us will be able to feast without the aid of others, and those of us so blessed will be able to lead still more of the world to the table to join us.

In the meantime, on this Thanksgiving Day, may your blessings be – as are the Texas Gal’s and mine – too numerous to count.

A Six-Pack of Thanks
“Be Thankful For What You Got” by William DeVaughn from Be Thankful For What You Got, 1974

“I Want To Thank You” by Billy Preston from That’s The Way God Planned It, 1969

“Thank You Lord” by Rick Nelson from Rudy the Fifth, 1971

“Thank You” by Led Zeppelin from Led Zeppelin II, 1969

“I Want To Thank You” by the Staple Singers from Let’s Do It Again, 1975

“Now Be Thankful” by Fairport Convention, Island WIP 6089, 1970

A Room That Feels Like Mine

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 13, 2008

Not many days after we got all the furniture settled in the house, as I sat puttering idly at the computer and keeping half an eye on a football game – it must have been a Saturday – I began to hear repeated thumps and bangs coming from the loft. As the noise began, Clarence and Oscar fled down the stairs from the loft as rapidly as cat legs could carry them.

I left the study and went up to investigate: I found the Texas Gal wielding a hammer, attempting to put nails and hangers into the sturdy wallboard that lines the loft. Success was hard to come by. I asked if she needed help, and she declined. By the end of the afternoon, she had on the walls of the loft the things she felt most important to hang, some functional, some purely decorative. Among the decorative items were the Texas license plates she removed from her car when she first registered it in Minnesota.

I returned to my study and looked at the walls, still empty, and looked at the wide range of items waiting to find their places on the walls. Still not certain where they should all go – I tend to be a bit glacial about such decisions, a fact that sometimes perturbs the Texas Gal – I settled back into my chair and resumed my puttering and game-watching.

Last Saturday, I was finally ready. I’d gotten weary of moving framed things around whenever I wanted to pull a record from the stacks or a book from the shelves. The Texas Gal was away, heading with a friend to the city of Mankato – about a hundred and thirty miles away – on a quest for quilt and scrapbook shops. So after watching the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers win a football game at Illinois, I got out my hammer and some hangers and nails.

An hour later, I sat in my chair and surveyed the room. To the left of the north window was my framed poster of the cover to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. In the small space above the window: a plaque given me twenty-some years ago by the National Newspaper Association for feature writing.

From the window, heading to the corner, we find: The picture of my dad and his 1952 Ford; and a framed collection of pictures from 2002-2003, a chronicle of our move to St. Cloud and our first year here put together for me by the Texas Gal (one of those pictures is the last taken of me and my dad together, quite possibly the last picture he was ever in).

On the east wall are a cartoon poster of St. Cloud; a clock with its numbers ringing a drawing of an anonymous early 20th century baseball player; and a framed replica of the February 5, 1959, front page of the Clear Lake (Iowa) Mirror-Reporter, on which the lead story is the deaths in a plane crash two days earlier of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Boppper and pilot Roger Peterson.

Above a bookcase is an autographed picture of baseball player Joe Morgan, from the time he was with the Cincinnati Reds; and, above the door, a large replica of a Carlsberg HOF Pilsner bottle cap, a fixture that I brought home from Denmark thirty-five years ago, one that has had a place on the wall everywhere I have lived since.

I was pleased. Sixty minutes of work had turned the room from a place where I spent a lot of time into a room that felt like mine. A few things that I’ve had on the walls in other places will be packed away, and I’m not certain where the map of Middle Earth will go when its frame has been repaired. But it will find a place, as it has ever since my dad framed it for me in 1972.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 4
“Dinah Flo” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 45670 (No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 7, 1972)

“Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins, People 608 (No. 66)

“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Philadelphia International 3520 (No. 61)

“All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 (No. 60)

“Easy Livin’” by Uriah Heep, Mercury 73307 (No. 49)

“I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners, Atlantic 2904 (No. 40)

“Midnight Rider” by Joe Cocker & the Chris Stainton Band, A&M 1370 (No. 36)

“Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim, Stax 0127 (No. 25)

“Beautiful Sunday” by Daniel Boone, Mercury 73281 (No. 22)

“Garden Party” by Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, Decca 32980 (No. 15)

“Popcorn” by Hot Butter, Musicor 1458 (No. 10)

“Everybody Plays The Fool” by the Main Ingredient, RCA Victor 0731 (No. 4)

“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis, Columbia 45618 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The funkiest thing here, without a doubt, is Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It),” which was produced by James Brown. Collins sang background on many of Brown’s recordings and was for a time in the 1970s a member of Brown’s traveling band. People Records was Brown’s label, evidently an offshoot of Polydor.

There are four other superb soul/r&b singles on this list, making it better than I thought it would be when I first dug the week’s Hot 100 out of the files. The singles by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Spinners and the Main Ingredient are smooth and still go down so easy, even after more than thirty-five years. All of them, oddly, peaked at No. 3. The Mel & Tim single starts with a conversation between the two singers before sliding into another smooth groove. I’m not sure the conversation works; it’s a short recording anyway, and I generally conclude that I’d rather have more singing and less talk from Mel & Tim.

Mott the Hoople and Uriah Heep, two British groups, had far more success on the Billboard albums chart than on the Hot 100. (Uriah Heep got five albums into the Top 40 between 1972 and 1974; Mott the Hoople had three albums in the Top 40 between 1973 and 1975.) The tracks here, “All the Young Dudes” and “Easy Livin’,” were the two groups’ only Top 40 hits, with “Dudes” (produced by David Bowie) peaking at No. 37 and “Easy Livin’” getting only to No. 39. Still both fun, though.

Joe Cocker’s version of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” starts a little sluggishly but when it kicks in, it cooks pretty well. In fact, there might be too much going on, what with the horns and the gospel chorus. I don’t know who produced the record, as the album from which it came, 1972’s Joe Cocker, is one I don’t have. I may have to remedy that although I seem to recall the album getting pretty spotty reviews when it came out.

I think Mac Davis told the tale behind his No. 1 hit on every talk show on television in 1972: His publisher or producer or manager (I don’t recall which it was, and it doesn’t really matter) told him that, in order to be a hit, a song had to have a hook. So he wrote “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” which stayed at No. 1 for three weeks in the autumn of 1972.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Thanks

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 23, 2007

It’s quiet here this morning.

There’s no noise from the parking lot outside, where most morning, the college kids and younger adults who make up a good portion of the folks in our apartment complex start the public portions of their days with laughter, the sounds of auto engines rumbling and the more frequent sounds of the heavy low bass of rap or hip-hop. In fact, more than half of the parking spaces are empty, evidence of Thanksgivings spent elsewhere.

The Texas Gal is taking advantage of the opportunity a rare vacation day presents: She’s sleeping in past her normal rising time of 6:30. It’s 7:47, and I’ve shut the bedroom door so that our two rampaging catboys – Clarence and Oscar – leave her alone. They’ll no doubt come through here, demanding attention, while I write.

We had a pleasant day yesterday: dinner with my family at my sister’s home in a Twin Cities suburb, and then we spent the evening with friends Sean and Stephanie at their new apartment on the west end of St. Cloud.

I had planned to rip an album this morning, Dobie Gray’s Drift Away from 1973, but I think I will leave that for Monday and move Monday’s planned share – Color Him In, a 1967 album by Bobby Jameson – for a week from today. Instead, though, I thought I’d offer a Baker’s Dozen in the spirit of yesterday’s holiday.

And no, I’m not going to go all rhapsodic about Thanksgiving and the things I am grateful for. Just let it suffice to say that I have a great deal for which to be grateful, starting, of course, with the Texas Gal and her love for me and extending throughout the various aspects of my life – my friends, my critters and all the rest – to those folks who stop by Echoes In The Wind to listen to the music that moves me.

A Baker’s Dozen of Thanks
“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic single 10555, 1970

“Thanks for the Pepperoni” by George Harrison and friends from Apple Jam, All Things Must Pass, 1970

“Thank You Lord” by Rick Nelson from Rudy the Fifth, 1971

“Now Be Thankful” by Fairport Convention, Island WIP single 6809, 1970

“I Wanna Thank You Baby” by Delbert McClinton from Plain From The Heart, 1981

“Thanks To You” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Be Thankful For What You Got” by William DeVaughn, Roxbury single 0236, 1974

“Thank You” by King Floyd from Think About It, 1973

“Thank You Mr. Poobah” by the Butterfield Blues Band from Paul Butterfield Blues Band, 1965

“I Want To Thank You” by Billy Preston from That’s The Way God Planned It, 1969

“Thanks For Saving My Life” by Billy Paul, Philadelphia International 3538, 1974

“Thank You Girl” by the Beatles, Vee-Jay single 587, 1964

“Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot from Shadows, 1982

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Thanks For The Pepperoni” was one of the five tracks on the third LP of All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s first solo album. That LP, titled Apple Jam, was made up of five long jam sessions recorded by Harrison and his friends during the recording of the album. Listened to as a whole, the jams could become tedious. Taken one at a time, they’re fun to listen to, for the most part. There are no specific credits for tracks, so one has to listen and guess. Guitarists on the album sessions were Harrison, Clapton and Dave Mason; bass players were Klaus Voorman and Carl Radle; on drums were Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon and Alan White; and playing keyboards were Gary Wright, Bobby Whitlock, Billy Preston and Gary Brooker. Which of those actually played on “Thanks For The Pepperoni” is left to speculation, informed supposition and wild guesses.

Rudy the Fifth was a pretty good country rock album from Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band. Made up for the most part of originals – “Thank You Lord” is one of them – the album also featured covers of Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Just Like A Woman” and of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” Although fairly obscure today, it’s an album worth seeking out. (It’s available from various on-line retailers at a two-few with the album Rick Sings Nelson.)

William DeVaughn was a one-hit wonder who, according to All-Music Guide, “was working for the government when he paid $900 for a recording session at Philadelphia’s Omega Sound Inc. (basically a ‘vanity record’ operation).” The session, which was backed by MFSB’s main rhythm section, so impressed Omega’s vice-president Frank Fioravanti, that he shopped “Be Thankful For What You Got” to various labels, finally getting it released on Roxbury. The song went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and to No. 4 on the Billboard Top 40. (DeVaughn had R&B hits with “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” and “Figures Can’t Calculate” but never hit the Top 40 pop chart again.)

I’ve listed “Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot here before but it’s too lovely a song to leave out of this selection.

Odd Moments In Vienna

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 20, 2007

I have one indelible memory regarding Rick Nelson.

No, it’s not the first time I heard “Hello Mary Lou” or one of his other hits. I was far too young for his hits of the 1950s and early 1960s to matter much to me as radio fare. Nor am I thinking of either of his two chart hits in the 1970s – “She Belongs To Me” and “Garden Party” – although I liked both of them.

No, I’m recalling a hole in the wall tavern somewhere in the old city of Vienna, an Austrian dive, if you will.

I’d already had a far more I interesting time in Vienna that I’d bargained for. Arriving on a Wednesday evening in late March, I’d learned that spring break for Austrian university students was underway and hostel spaces and cheap hotel rooms in Vienna were more rare than cheap beer. I stood near the information kiosk in the main train station, pondering my options. I was thinking of getting on a train leaving the city, riding and sleeping halfway through the night and then getting off that train and catching the next train back to Vienna, again getting as much sleep as I could on the way back. (With a rail pass, there would be no cost, but whatever rest I got would be less than good. But I’d done it before.)

Then a woman about my age came up to me, trailed by a young man. “Are you looking for a place to stay?” Hopeful and leery at the same time – maybe they ran a small hotel, or maybe they were into things more weird than I wanted to contemplate; I did not know – I nodded. She turned to him and said something in a language I didn’t recognize. He responded in the same language, and she turned to me and said, “This is my fiancé, and he’s arrived here a few days ago from Hungary. He knows a place where people who come here from Hungary stay.”

I was tired and it sounded better than getting on a train and switching directions in the middle of the night. So I walked with them as they led the way out of the station and north into an older neighborhood. On the way, the young woman told me that she was originally Hungarian but had emigrated to Canada when she was very young and had come to Vienna to meet her fiancé, who had just left Hungary. A mile or so later, we entered a building and went up a flight of stairs, and the Hungarian fellow knocked on a door. An older woman opened it and spoke German to him.

And then came the most odd negotiations I have even been part of. The proprietor of the boarding house, for that’s what it was, spoke German. The Hungarian fellow translated that into Hungarian and spoke to his fiancé, who translated his words into English for me and then sent my response back up the line, through Hungarian into German. After a few moments, the owner ushered us inside to show me the room I would rent for the night. (I planned on three nights in Vienna, but I was still leery.) We went through one room with two beds into a second bedroom. I saw I could lock the second room from the inside, which reassured me a little, but the bed needed changing. And I waved my hands and began to leave. No, no, said the young woman, the bed would have clean sheets in a matter of minutes. Was I hungry? There was a good Hungarian restaurant down the block, and by the time we got back, I would have clean sheets.

So we went and ate Hungarian goulash: tender beef chunks in a paprika and sour cream sauce over noodles. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, the impact heightened, I imagine, by the oddness of its circumstances. After we were done, we went down the block and up the stairs, and the room that would be mine – with a bed, a sink, and a table and chair at the window overlooking the street – was cleaned and ready for me. I still didn’t like the idea of going through another bedroom to get to mine, but it was late, and I could lock my door from inside. The landlady gave me towels and showed me where the shower and other facilities were, and I settled in.

I ended up spending two nights there. And I spent two days seeing the sights of Vienna in the company of two young women from West Virginia, Cathy and Betty, and a guy from Canada named Louis, whom I met during my first morning there. During the afternoon of our second day together, as we wandered through the central part of the city, we thought it was time for a beer or two. After a few blocks, we saw an open door into what looked like tavern that might have seen better days, but there were people laughing at a couple of tables and there were some empty tables. So we trooped in and found chairs and ordered mugs of dark beer.

Louis and I saw the jukebox on the far side of the room, and we headed over. There were only two songs in English: Tammy Wynette’s 1968 hit “Stand By Your Man” and Rick Nelson’s “Hello, Mary Lou” from 1961. We dropped some money in the machine and sat down, laughing and drinking pretty good beer with Cathy and Betty, watching customers come and go.

And we became aware that the clientele, except for Cathy and Betty, was all male. The men would enter, go to the tables occupied by the laughing people – all women, we now noticed – and soon make their way to a side door, each man accompanied by a woman. We were in a brothel!

Cathy and Betty began to sing along with Tammy: “Stand by your man! Give him two arms to cling to and something warm to come to when nights are cold and lonely.” Louis and I laughed into our beers.

The song ended, and the jukebox started playing “Hello, Mary Lou.” As the young Rick Nelson’s voice competed with the laughter of the idle working girls at the two tables near the bar, Louis leaned forward. We all leaned in to hear him. And, looking at the working girls up front, he said, “Which one’s Mary Lou?”

Laughing most of the time, we finished our beers and left. A couple of passers-by on the street did double-takes when they saw that Louis and I were followed out of the place by two rather attractive young women.

And every time I hear “Hello, Mary Lou,” well, there I am in a Viennese brothel.

That holds true for the live version of the song on today’s album: Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour, 1969), on which for some reason the song is listed as “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart.” It’s a pretty decent album, recorded at a time when Nelson was trying to get his recording career off the ground again. He would have a couple of hits in the next year or so – “She Belongs To Me” and “Garden Party,” as I indicated above – but he never did catch the imagination of the listening public the way he had years before.

And in a way, that’s too bad. The work he did later in his career – starting with this live album – was nicely done, starting as country-tinged rock and moving to full country rock (and a little rockabilly) in the late 1970s and early 1980s before his death in a plane crash in 1985.

In Concert presents a nice mix of three of his originals, three Bob Dylan covers and covers of songs by Fats Domino, Tim Hardin, Eric Andersen and Doug Kershaw and a few other things, including, as I said above, “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart,” which was written by Gene Pitney. It’s a pretty good listen.

(The band is: Randy Meisner on bass, Pat Shanahan on drums, Allen Kemp on guitar and Tom Brumley on steel guitar.)

Tracks:
Come On In
Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart
Violets Of Dawn
Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises
She Belongs To Me
If You Gotta Go, Go Now
I’m Walkin’
Red Balloon
Louisiana Man
Believe What You Say
Easy To Be Free
I Shall Be Released

Rick Nelson – In Concert (The Troubadour, 1969) [1970]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1971, Vol. 2

May 5, 2011

Originally posted August 15, 2007

In the later months of 1971, during my freshman year at St. Cloud State, I began spending a lot of my time hanging around the studios of KVSC, the campus radio station, then only about four years old. I did odd jobs at the station and put together a five-minute sportscast three or four days a week.

At the time, the station’s programming was still classical music for much of the day, with only the evenings given up to a very loose rock format. That changed sometime in the spring of 1972, when we staff members voted overwhelmingly to rock full-time. The only impact that had on me was that I no longer had to spend three hours a week thumbing through the classical records to find pieces of the right length to fit into an afternoon’s format. (The first format I put together was one that I built around Antonín Dvorák’s “New World” symphony, one of my favorite classical pieces. The program director said okay, but pointed out to me a schedule of symphonies set to be the centerpieces of each day’s afternoon programming. I think my insertion of Antonín’s work into the schedule bumped something by Mozart off the list, but I figured Wolfgang didn’t need the exposure anyway.)

So after the revolution – our vote to move to full-time rock saddened our faculty adviser, who then left that position – I spent less time down in the programming office and more time in the studios, cataloging new records and shelving stuff that came out of the studio after being played. I still did my sportscasts. As the academic year went on, I also did some late-night newscasts and some remote broadcasts, adding my analysis to play-by-play broadcasts of Huskies’ basketball and hockey games.

But as much as I learned about news and sports operation, I learned more about music. I spent most of my free time in the studio, even when I had no tasks there, sitting with other staffers on the tattered couches in the room that passed as our lounge, listening on the monitor to the magic happening in the control room. We spent hours dissecting and passing judgment on music new and old, drawing a somewhat flexible line between what was popular and what was serious rock. There were things, we decided with our accumulated wisdom, that could be both. And even before we went to rock fulltime, we listened to rock fulltime, playing it on the turntable in Studio B and ignoring the classical music we were putting on the air from Studio A.

One afternoon, probably sometime early in 1972, I was working on my sportscast for the five o’clock news program. As Long John Baldry’s voice came from the speaker in the lounge, telling us all not to lay no boogie-woogie on the king of rock and roll, the station manager came in, visibly anxious.

“Does anybody know anything about this concert tonight in the auditorium?” she asked.

I’d seen the posters. “I think it’s a group from South Africa that uses its music to protest the apartheid system in their home country,” I said. At the time, “apartheid” was not nearly as well known – as a word or a system – as it would become. Given that, the others in the station offices stared at me, as did the manager. She asked me, “Have you ever heard their music?”

I shook my head. No, I hadn’t.

She said, “Well, don’t worry about that. After you get done with your sports at 5:30, would you hang around and interview them on the air?”

Interview? Live? My stomach clenched. “I don’t know that much about them,” I said.

“You know more than the rest of us,” she replied.

So at 5:30, when I normally would have made my way out of Stewart Hall toward my ride home, I sat nervously at a table with four members of the African musical group (I have long since forgotten the group’s name) and talked with them about their music and its origins and what they hoped to accomplish with it through their performances. If I remember accurately, the fifteen minutes ended with a brief live performance of one of their songs.

Whoever had the next shift took over after that, and the musicians left, smiling, heading for their nearby dressing room. I sat in the chair and trembled for a few minutes. The station manager told me I’d done a good job and offered a few pointers for next time. The idea that there would be a next time was reassuring.

That evening, Rick and Rob came over to play some table-top hockey, and I had the radio tuned to KVSC, as I almost always did that winter. We were between games when the program director – manning the booth that evening – ended one long set of music and prepared to begin another.

“This next one,” he said, “is for one of our staffers who did a good job in a tight spot this afternoon.” He mentioned my name and then said, “Here’s Leon Russell from The Concert for Bangladesh, ’cause I know he digs it!”

Rick and Rob stared at me, and I grinned as Leon began to pound the piano.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 2

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” by Leon Russell from The Concert for Bangladesh

“Stealin’” by Taj Mahal from Happy Just To Be Like I Am

“Future Games” by Fleetwood Mac from Future Games

“Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones from Sticky Fingers

“Rock Me On The Water” by Johnny Rivers from Home Grown

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by Undisputed Truth, Gordy single 7108

“Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who, Decca single 32888

“Out In The Cold” by Carole King from the Tapestry sessions

“Love Has Fallen On Me” by Rotary Connection from Hey Love

“Ha Ha Ha” by Sisters Love, A&M single 1325

“Gone Dead Train” by Crazy Horse from Crazy Horse

“Sing Me A Song” by Rick Nelson from Rudy the Fifth

“Watching The River Flow” by Bob Dylan, Columbia single 45409

Some notes on a few of the songs:

Leon Russell not only starts this selection – which was random after the opening tune – but he ends it as well, as he produced, and played piano on, Bob Dylan’s single “Watching The River Flow.” At the time, Leon was about as big as one could get in rock, having pretty much run Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour the year before and than getting a star turn at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in August of 1971. One of the best moments for me of the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley is the wordless call and response duet Leon gets into with, I believe, Claudia Lennear (misspelled Linnear in the album notes).

“Wild Horses” might be the prettiest song the Rolling Stones ever recorded. Being the contrarians that they are, however, it’s also one of the saddest and most desolate songs they ever put on an album.

Speaking of pretty, sad and desolate, all three adjectives apply as well to the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” Was there something in the water in 1971? More likely, there was something in the air. (With apologies to Thunderclap Newman and its 1969 hit.)

Happy Just To Be Like I Am, the album from which Taj Mahal’s “Stealin’” comes from, was one of his better explorations in roots music, as it included some forays into Caribbean rhythms as well as some of Taj’s idiosyncratic takes on the blues.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1979

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 14, 2007

When I think back on it, 1979 is another one of those years that kind of blurs around the edges. I was living in Monticello, working at the newspaper there. I was telling stories, finding news, paying bills and building a life. The fact that the life I was building came undone a few years later doesn’t negate the effort or the time invested, or the results at the time.

It was a pretty good time, as I loved what I was doing. But it was a time that – looking back – is indistinct, as if I’m trying to view it through thick glass. A couple of things, work- and news-related, do stand out. Monticello is home to one of the two nuclear power plants in Minnesota, and when one of the two reactors at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant had a partial meltdown that spring, we were presented with our lead story for the next week: How did it happen? Could it happen to the plant here? How does the safety record of the company in Pennsylvania compare to that of the company here? Does the accident make people here more uneasy about nuclear power? And so on.

It was a hard issue to deal with, one that requires a reporter not only to understand a complex technology but also to be able to explain it to his readers in a way that’s easy to read and understand. There’s a thin reporting line between being technically obtuse and condescendingly simple, and that was one of the times when that line was difficult to find. But it was fun.

Fun? It was fun reporting on an accident that – had things gone only a little bit differently in Pennsylvania – could easily have killed or hurt a lot of people?

Well, yeah. Reporting can be an odd business, and I suppose the people who get into it might be – many of them, anyway – a little odd as well. There is a rush that comes along with a big story. Now, I was far removed from Pennsylvania, but it was still a kick to go out and gather and collate and present information about those major events and how they affected those of us in our area. There was a little extra adrenaline rush that week as I and the other members of our small news staff put together several stories about Three Mile Island for the next week’s edition.

That adrenaline rush is a hard thing to explain, except to another reporter/news junkie, and then it needs no explaining. When big things happen, when we cover major stuff, we reporters operate in kind of a duality. In the spring of 1990, when I was editing two weekly newspapers in rural Kansas, a string of tornadoes ripped through our coverage area one night. The next day, I drove from town to town, farm to farm, interviewing people about their fears during the night and seeing their grief in the daylight. I was kind, I was gentle, and the larger part of me, as I recorded their losses and their tears, grieved with them; they were my neighbors. But there was that part of me – and every reporter knows this portion – that was thinking, as I aimed the camera or asked the next question, “Man, what a great story!”

That adrenaline rush was there as I reported and wrote about nuclear power in the spring of 1979, and it was there later that year as truckers around the state, fed up with rising fuel prices, threatened a strike. Our photographer and I, trying to find more truckers to talk to, found ourselves in the midst of a convoy heading down a freeway toward a truckers’ meeting, a meeting at which it was made clear – with many angry faces and a few threats – that we were not welcome. We left, and later that day, as I filled my car at one of the local stations, I sympathized with the truckers. After all, I was paying 79 cents a gallon for gas, and at the time, that was a high price.

It’s not often that the life of a small town intersects with larger events that capture the attention of a state, a nation, the world. Reporters always look for those connections, for they make it easier to tell the stories of all our lives. Reporters, after all, are storytellers

And here are some songs from that year, 1979, when the stories that I told included nuclear power gone wrong and anger on truckers’ faces.

“Sign on the Window” by Jennifer Warnes from Shot Through The Heart

“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman, RSO single 917

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan from Slow Train Coming

“Rise” by Herb Alpert from Rise

“Look Out” by Albert King from Live Wire: Blues Power

“Run for Home” by Lindisfarne from Back and Fourth

“Last Train To London” by Electric Light Orchestra from Discovery

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into the Music

“Half the Way” by Crystal Gayle, Columbia single 11087

“That’s All Right Mama” by Rick Nelson, unreleased remix from Memphis sessions

“Need Your Love So Bad” by the Allman Brothers Band from Enlightened Rogues

“Don’t Cry Sister” by J. J. Cale from 5

A few notes about the songs:

Jennifer Warnes “Sign on the Window” is to my mind one of the finest interpretations of a Bob Dylan song available. The single from Shot Through The Heart was “I Know A Heartache When I See One,” which hit No. 19 on the Top 40 chart and the Top Ten on the country charts. The album didn’t sell well, despite the hot single and strong performances on other cuts, and, according to All-Music Guide, Warnes didn’t release any new material until Famous Blue Raincoat, an album of Leonard Cohen songs, came out in 1987. That was also the year, of course, when Warnes and Bill Medley had a No. 1 hit with “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the film Dirty Dancing.

“Stumblin’ In” was a piece of fluff from Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman that completed the destruction of Quatro’s credibility as a rocker, a process that had begun when she took the role of Leather Tuscadero on the ABC comedy Happy Days two years earlier. I’m not sure how much of a rocker she actually was, although some of her stuff seemed to have some nice crunchy power chords. Anyway, fluff can be successful, and “Stumblin’ In” reached No. 4 early in 1979.

“Gotta Serve Somebody” is what happened when Bob Dylan got religion and believed once again in his songs as agents of change. From the first of Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums (the others were Saved and Shot of Love), “Gotta Serve Somebody” – and the entire Slow Train Coming album, for that matter – also shows what happens when a performer works with a strong cast. In this case, Dylan went to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, brought along Mark Knopfler, bassist Tim Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, and used Barry Beckett on keyboards and the Muscle Shoals Horns.

Herb Alpert’s Rise came out of sessions that were originally intended to present the trumpeter in a disco context. Those sessions did not work – a fact for which I, for one, am grateful – and Alpert turned to other work. The edited version of “Rise” was No. 1 for two weeks that August.

Probably the least-known group or performer on today’s list is Lindisfarne, a British folk-rock group that had several well-regarded albums in the first half of the Seventies. Back and Fourth was the group’s first album on Atco, after time spent at other labels, notably Elektra. It’s a not-bad album, but it doesn’t have quite the British character that informed the group’s earlier albums, especially Fog On The Tyne and Nicely Out Of Tune. AMG says “Run For Home” is “Springsteen-like” and received some FM airplay in the U.S. likely because of that. I don’t recall hearing it back then, but I like the song.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 2

April 22, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2007

Every once in a while during the years this blog generally deals with – and I haven’t bothered to sit down and calculate how frequently this actually happened, so that generality will have to do – a song/record came along with an opening that was utterly electric.

I’m sure others had the experience, too: The first time you heard it, you stopped whatever it was you were doing and stared, thinking to yourself, “What in the world is that and how did they do that?” Then, if you’re like me, you went to the turntable and lifted the needle and started the song over again. Or, in at least one case long ago, I rewound the tape and started it again (the awkwardness of which taught me why tape was never going to replace vinyl; it was too painstaking to cue up one specific song). These days, of course, you don’t have to do anything but push the “back” button on the CD or mp3 player.

But no matter how you get back to them, there are songs that announce themselves with such force and vitality that they bring a moment of stunned silence and require a second playing immediately.

That experience came to mind this morning because of the presence on today’s Baker’s Dozen of “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” from Derek & the Dominos’ classic album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. The first time I heard the Eric Clapton-Bobby Whitlock tune was not, for good or ill, in its original context. I wrote in an earlier post about buying the 1972 compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, a compilation that led me to some of my favorite musicians. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” leads off the last side of that two-record set, and I recall jerking my head up as I heard the churning A-minor to G-major riff, followed by the surge of Whitlock’s organ and the wailing guitar lead.

That certainly wasn’t the first time a song announced itself with such power, but it’s a first listening I recall more clearly than most, and the song and the recording remain a favorite of mine to this day.

There is, of course, another song on Layla that announces itself with anthemic ferocity, but I don’t recall the first time I heard the album’s title song. Most likely it was soon after the album’s release in 1970, when “Layla,” the song, was released as a single but went nowhere. Certainly by the time the single was re-released two years later, it was a familiar piece of music, but familiarity didn’t – and still doesn’t – make the opening any less gripping.

A few others come to mind as well. Not all of them are on the same level as “Layla” or “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” but then, very few songs are. But some of the songs with, to me, memorable introductions are:

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the Bob Dylan tune that comes from his classic Blonde on Blonde album. For some reason, the European edition of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits included this wonderful cut (I never did bother to figure out what recording from the American edition was left off the European version), and when it rolled around on my tape player one evening in Denmark, I sat straight up at the harmonica announcing itself over a rolling accompaniment.

“Question” by the Moody Blues. I love the madly strummed guitars, punctuated as they are by the thrusts of mellotron (I assume) and horns.*

“She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” by Shawn Phillips. Unlike its title, this song – which opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution – proves that less is more. Phillips opens the song almost a capella, with only the distant rumble of (I think) tympani providing an accent. The sound of his voice is so distant as he begins to sing that the ear strains to hear and at the same time, the listener – this listener, anyway – marvels at his audacity in opening an album so quietly. (The song is, I imagine, colloquially known as “Woman.”)

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr has an opening figure that would sound like a fanfare – and almost a clichéd one at that – if it were performed by horns of any sort. On piano, it’s an effective and ear-catching entry to a nicely written and produced piece of popcraft (and it has one hell of a saxophone solo, too, performed by Bobby Keys, who at times seems to spell his last name “Keyes”).

I would guess that at least twenty songs by the Rolling Stones belong in this list. “Satisfaction” would likely be the earliest, although it’s never really grabbed me the way other songs listed here do. “Brown Sugar” starts with a bang, as does (appropriately) “Start Me Up.” For my nickel, though, the most gripping introduction to a Stones’ song comes from the chiming guitar that starts “Gimme Shelter.” Sly, spooky and from another world, the slowly layered introduction is perfect for a song about how the world has begun to fall apart around us and we’ve noticed it far too late.

Well, that’s five in addition to the two from Layla, and that’s likely enough for the day. I imagine that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of two or three others I should have listed instead. But that’s one of the joys of writing about music: Two lists on the same topic compiled at separate moments can be utterly different.

And I’d like to know, what are the intros that grab you? Leave a comment, if you would. And enjoy today’s Baker’s Dozen, our second exploration of the year 1970.

“Old Times, Good Times,” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Factory Band” by Ides of March from Vehicle

“Poor Boy” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later

“Feelin’ Alright” by Lulu from New Routes

“Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen

“You and Me” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Rick Nelson from Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour 1969)

“Sweet Peace Within” by Mylon Lefvre and Broken Heart from Mylon

“That’s A Touch I Like” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester

“Gypsy Queen, Part Two” by Gypsy from Gypsy

“Baby, Take Me In Your Arms” by Jefferson, Janus single 106

“Country Road” by Merry Clayton from Gimme Shelter

Some notes on some of the songs:

“Old Times Good Times” might have showed up on an earlier Baker’s Dozen, but it’s too good a song to click past. It’s from Stills’ first – and best – solo album, and Jimi Hendrix provided the guitar part.

According to All But Forgotten Oldies, Jefferson was the pseudonym for British-born pop star Geoff Turton. Prior to going solo, Turton had been the lead singer for the Rocking Berries, a 1960s British pop group. “Baby Take Me In Your Arms” reached No. 23 in the U.S.

Mylon Lefevre, whose “Sweet Peace Within” shows up here, began his musical career with his family’s Southern Gospel group at the age of 12. His work on Mylon with Broken Heart is among the best of his career although one can make an argument that 1973’s On The Road To Freedom – with British rocker Alvin Lee and a supporting cast of stellar sidemen – was better. Nevertheless, “Sweet Peace Within” is a very nice listen from a performer whose work seems to be forgotten these days.

Merry Clayton’s Gimme Shelter album is legendary, as is her scarifying background vocal on the Rolling Stones’ single of the same name. “Country Road,” written by James Taylor, is the album’s opening song and sets the stage for a spectacular solo debut.

*The mellontron/horns are only on the album version of “Question.” The single version, which I almost certainly heard first, has only strummed guitars and a bit of percussion leading to the vocal.  Note added April 22, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen (Plus) From 1977

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 25, 2007

Today’s Baker’s Dozen actually numbers twenty songs. I decided to add some bonus material because I won’t be posting again for a little more than a week. The Texas Gal and I are heading south tomorrow to visit her family in the Dallas area and do some touring in San Antonio and around Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

So I thought I’d give you some extra tunes today. Don’t listen to them all at once! (I couldn’t help it: My dad used to give me similar warnings about my allowance, back when a quarter really could buy something.)

A note about how I compile the Baker’s Dozens: I generally sort the year’s songs by running time and set the RealPlayer on random. If I don’t have a selected starting song – I did not this week – them I start with the shortest song I have for that year (usually a television theme or something negligible) and then go from there. The only rules I have are not to post something I’ve posted since I began the blog in January, and only one song per artist.

But I screwed up midway through this batch. I have a lot of odd stuff in the collection – fight songs, commercials, television themes and other stuff – and at about No. 10, the RealPlayer landed on a 1977 recording of the national anthem of the Soviet Union. I found it recently at a site that offers hundreds of mp3s of songs from that nation’s 74-year existence. When the anthem popped up, I thought, “That’s just a little too odd for my audience,” and I hit the advance button, got a repeat performer, got another repeat and another repeat and got lost.

So I started over again, somewhere around the entry from Chicago, and when I got to the end of eighteen songs, I thought, well, I should put the Soviet anthem in anyway, so I made it a twenty-song selection, adding the Thelma Houston tune through a random jump.

And I got to thinking about the Soviet anthem. About forty years ago – which is not that many years ago, as these things go – acknowledging some affection for that particular piece of music could have left one open to criticism. Anything that had even a slight whiff of respect or affection for the USSR was suspicious. I recall a presentation to one of the local civic organizations – Elks, Moose, Lions, Eagles, Rotary, I don’t remember which one – sometime in 1969, I think, when the speaker pointed out that the Beatles, by opening their 1968 self-titled album (the “White Album”) with “Back In The USSR,” were proclaiming their intent to indoctrinate their listeners with their Communist views. While the kids in the audience snorted and rolled their eyes, our parents nodded and made mental notes to see what we were listening to.

(For the record, my parents were far more upset by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” than they were by “Back In The USSR,” which was a Chuck Berry/Beach Boys pastiche/tribute, anyway!)

But I do acknowledge a fondness for the Soviet anthem, partly because it is a stirring piece of music, to my ears, and partly because hearing it reminds me of watching the Olympics during my younger years and seeing red-clad athlete after athlete standing atop the awards platform with a gold medal as the anthem echoed through the arena. (I especially recall the Soviet gymnasts and my admiration for the dark elegance of Ludmilla Tourischeva.)

Anyway, here’s today’s augmented Baker’s Dozen, from the year of 1977.

“Native New Yorker” by Odyssey, RCA single 11129

“Wings” by Rick Nelson from Intakes

“The Trumpet Vine” by Kate Wolf from Lines On The Paper

“Velvet Green” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood

“Jammin’” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Exodus

“Kitty Come Home” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Dancer With Bruised Knees

“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree single 16094

“I Got The News” by Steely Dan from Aja

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” by the Sanford-Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant
Fire

“Morning Man” by Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite from The Joy

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again

“Mississippi Delta City Blues” by Chicago from Chicago XI

“Sunshine Day” by Osibisa from Welcome Home

“Hog Of The Forsaken” by Michael Hurley from Long Journey

“Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne from Running On Empty

“Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire from All ‘N All

“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

“Something So Right” by Phoebe Snow from Never Letting Go

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla single 54278

National Anthem of the Soviet Union by the Red Army Choir.*

A few notes:

“Wings” is pretty indicative of the country-rock direction Rick Nelson was taking during the 1970s. He didn’t have a lot of chart success, but he was still recording music well worth hearing, and did so until his untimely death in 1985.

Speaking of musicians and untimely deaths, Kate Wolf is not nearly as well known as most of the musicians here, and that’s a shame. “The Trumpet Vine” is from her second album, Lines On The Paper, and – like much of her work – is a quiet celebration of domestic harmony and simplicity. Her folk-influenced work – which ended with her death from leukemia in 1986 – is well worth seeking out.

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” is, I think, the Sanford-Townsend Band’s attempt at cataloguing and criticizing the excesses of L.A. It’s not a bad recording, but the guys seem to have their tongues thrust pretty firmly in their cheeks, which doesn’t work. You either preach against the decadence or you celebrate it, I think. And the S-T Band doesn’t pull it off nearly as well as the Eagles did a few years earlier with “Life In The Fast Lane” or as well as David & David did in 1986 with “Welcome To The Boomtown.” Still, it’s a fun cut.

I’ve posted some work by Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite here before and talked about their work with Joy of Cooking. “Morning Man,” from what I think was their final piece of work together, has some of the ambience of their Joy of Cooking recordings.

Muddy Waters’ performance on this version of “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is a delight. Produced by Johnny Winter – who also plays guitar – the album Hard Again marked a late-in-life comeback for Waters, one of the five or six largest figures in Twentieth Century American music.

I did not know about Michael Hurley until a few years ago, when the producers of HBO’s Deadwood used “The Hog Of The Forsaken” in one of the show’s first-season episodes. It’s odd, all right, and I plan to explore Hurley’s music further.

I wondered, as I let the RealPlayer run, which – if any – of the hits from Saturday Night Fever would pop up. That it was “Stayin’ Alive” seems appropriate. Although many of the songs from the movie’s soundtrack are fun to hear, “Stayin’ Alive” has an iconic power that sums up the movie – and the era the movie celebrated and created – in a way that nothing else from the soundtrack could (with the possible exception, I guess, of the Trammps’’).

*After a few years of digging and listening, I’m almost certain that the performance of the Soviet National Anthem is by the Red Army Choir, so I’ve changed the listing and the tag  from  “unknown choir.” Note added June 12, 2011.

Through The Junkyard Again

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 23, 2007

As I didn’t get a new album posted today, and I wanted to do something, even at this late hour – it’s 11:09 p.m. as I write – I thought I’d so another walk through the junkyard, putting up a list of twenty-five songs selected by using RealPlayer’s random function:

“Heaven/Where True Love Goes” by Yusuf from An Other Cup, 2006.

“In The Beginning” by the Moody Blues from On The Threshold Of A Dream, 1969.

“I Must Be In Love” by the Rutles from The Rutles, 1978.

“Till I See You Again” by Derek & The Dominos from unreleased sessions, 1971.

“Our Very Own” by Nanci Griffith & Keith Carradine from Hearts In Mind, 2005.

“Sugar Blues” by Al Hirt from Cotton Candy, 1962.

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” by Hot Tuna from Splashdown, WQIV-FM, New York
City, 1975.

“Muleskinner Blues” by Tony Rice from Cold On The Shoulder, 1984.

“Big River” by Johnny Cash, Sun single 283, 1957.

“Bound For Glory” by Phil Ochs from All the News That’s Fit To Sing, 1964.

“The Hunter” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Norah Jones, WFUV broadcast, New York City, 2002.

“Crossroader” by Mountain from Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On, 1972.

“When The Battle Is Over” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark, 1970.

“Let Me Do It To You” by J. J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976.

“Miranda” by Fleetwood Mac from Say You Will, 2003.

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Jesse Fuller, live at Newport Folk Festival, 1964.

“Legend In His Time” by Kate Wolf & the Wildwood Flower from Back Roads, 1976.

“Why” by Fleetwood Mac from Mystery To Me, 1973.

“You Got Some Inspiration” by Boz Scaggs from Middle Man, 1980.

“Allt Jag Behöver” by Lisa Nilsson from Himlen Runt Hörnet (Swedish), 1992.

“Something You Can’t Buy” by Rick Nelson from Intakes, 1977.

“Mary & The Soldier” by Lucy Kaplansky from Flesh and Bone, 1996.

“Travelin’ Blues” by Loggins & Messina from Full Sail, 1973.

“Strong Feeling” by Joe Haywood, Front Page single 1000, about 1969.

Once again, nothing from before 1960, and pretty light on R&B. But it gives another pretty good idea of what about ninety minutes of listening brings me.