Posts Tagged ‘Robert Cray’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 16, 2008

I watched most of the (very long) baseball All-Star Game last night. The most affecting portion of the broadcast, to me, was the introduction of the starters, with each starter joining members of the Baseball Hall of Fame waiting for them at their positions. As the game was in Yankee Stadium, the Yankee Hall of Fame members were introduced last at each position, and the final Hall of Fame member to be introduced was Yogi Berra. That made sense to me. Berra is most likely the greatest living Yankee.

(Joe DiMaggio, who died in 1999, insisted to his last day on being introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer” because he was given that title during a celebration of professional baseball’s centennial in 1969. If one wanted to extend the title to a new claimant, I would imagine that “the greatest living ballplayer” now would be Willie Mays, although one could argue without looking silly for Stan Musial.)

Anyway, as I watched the introductions and then most of the rest of the game – staying up way after midnight to see the American League win – I thought about the two times the All-Star Game took place in Minnesota, in 1965 and in 1985. I was eleven when the 1965 game was played at Metropolitan Stadium, and I paid no attention. I paid little attention to baseball at all in those years, preferring to read and to listen to my James Bond soundtracks.

In 1985, I might have watched some of the game, which took place in the relatively new Metrodome, but I wasn’t all that interested. I was back in Minnesota after finishing my graduate coursework at the University of Missouri. I had a thesis to write, and I poked at that unenthusiastically. I wrote about the Wright County board for a pool of eight newspapers. I played a lot of tabletop baseball. And I kept house and listened to the radio a lot. For many reasons, it was not a happy time.

But I do recall a fair amount of the music that pops up when I run a random selection for 1985:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2
“My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Los Angeles Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Children’s Crusade” by Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles

“Turn Me Round” by A Drop In The Gray from Certain Sculptures

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears, Mercury single 880659

“This Is The Sea” by the Waterboys from This Is The Sea

“The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade, Portrait single 05713

“Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)” by Prefab Sprout from Steve McQueen

“Just For You” by Quarterflash from Back Into Blue

“The Moon Is Full” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“Indoctrination (A Design For Living)” by Dead Can Dance from Spleen and Ideal

“Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights, CBS single 7073 (Canada)

“One Dream” by the Dream Academy from The Dream Academy

“Money$ Too Tight (To Mention)” by Simply Red, Elektra single 69528

A few comments:

The Springsteen selection is, of course, from the massive (five LPs) box set of live performances that was released in 1986. Considering his accomplishments, I get the sense that Springsteen is a relatively humble man, but Live/1975-85 came across almost like bragging. On the other hand, as All-Music Guide notes, the “box set, including 40 tracks and running over three and a half hours, was about the average length of a [Springsteen] show.”

Certain Sculptures is the only album ever released by A Drop In The Gray, and it’s a pretty good one. I didn’t know about the group twenty-three years ago. In fact, I was only recently introduced to the group at The Vinyl District, one of my regular stops on the blog-reading circuit. I liked what I heard in TVD’s recent post, so I went and got some more from Certain Sculptures. A 1985 review from Trouser Press quoted at the blog notes that A Drop In The Gray had a sound “approximating an updated Moody Blues.”

There are, every year, records that almost no one can avoid hearing. In 1985, two of those were “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” Unless one lived in a remote corner of the universe, it seems, and watched only C-SPAN, you heard them somewhere, and you heard them frequently enough for those hooks to set in permanently. In fact, when someone says “1985” to me in the context of music, the Tears For Fears” record is one of several that come immediately to mind. (The others are “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “We Are The World.” I could get along for a long time without hearing that latter song again.)

On the other hand, I could always stand to hear more by the Waterboys. This Is The Sea is one of the great albums of the Eighties: Literate, melancholy, ambitious and maybe just a hair pretentious, but if the group’s ambition – maybe more accurately, leader Mike Scott’s ambition – exceeded its abilities, it wasn’t by much. And in general, I’d rather listen to something ambitious than something routine.

Speaking of “We Are The World,” the song “Tears Are Not Enough” was the Canadian effort on the album USA for Africa: We Are the World. “Tears” was written by Bryan Adams, David Foster, Rachel Paiement and Jim Vallance and was recorded by a large contingent of north-of-the-border musicians who called themselves Northern Lights for the exercise. Music by committee rarely turns out well, no matter how noble the cause, making “Tears Are Not Enough” a period piece at best, albeit one that’s not nearly as familiar as its U.S.-based cousin.

Eric Clapton & Robert Cray, ca. 1989-1990

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 11, 2007

Boy, once again, a reminder of the things you miss when you’re not paying attention!

For two seasons – from 1988 into 1990 – the NBC television network aired a show first called Sunday Night, later named Michelob Presents Night Music. Hosted first by Jools Holland and later by David Sanborn, the show’s guest list was nothing but eclectic.

Among the performers listed at Wikipedia as having performed are: Ruth Brown, Ivan Neville, Phoebe Snow, Dizzy Gillespie, Dr. John, Randy Newman, Boz Scaggs, Al Green, Darlene Love, Joe Cocker, Youssou N’Dour, Branford Marsalis, Lou Reed, Tracy Nelson, Little Milton . . . and that was just a small sampling of the first season!

What a show! And I never caught a glimpse of it. It could be that during the first season, the NBC affiliate in Minot, North Dakota, aired something else. That type of thing happened out on the prairie. But I was in the Twin Cities during the second season and missed it completely. Oh, well.

A little bit of digging found a clip from the show’s second season of Eric Clapton and Robert Cray performing “Old Love,” a song they co-wrote that was released on Clapton’s Journeyman album in 1989.

It’s followed by an odd little bit that evidently was the type of thing the show used as transitions from performance to commercials.

Afternote: Well, 200 posts. Whodathunkit? Thanks to everyone who stops by. I’m having a lot of fun doing this and evidently those of you who stop by are having fun, too. Thanks again!

A Baker’s Dozen From 1986

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 10, 2007

Well, 1986.

In late 1992, as the year was nearing its end, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth characterized it as the annus horribilis, or horrible year. As 1986 turned into 1987, I felt the same way.

The year had started all right. A consortium of weekly newspaper publishers for whom I’d been covering government in Wright County as a freelancer had decided in December, not unexpectedly, not to continue the arrangement into the new year. And as January approached, I sought new employment. It wasn’t urgent, as I was married at the time and had been house-husbanding while I was a freelancer. But I wanted to get back into the workforce on a more substantial basis.

I was already teaching one course – a weekly night class: Introduction to Mass Communication – at St. Cloud State, so in mid-January I drove from Monticello to St. Cloud and the campus to nose around for possible additional jobs there. I dropped in at the university’s public relations office, where the director was a long-time family acquaintance. (My father had retired only two years earlier after thirty-three years as a teacher and administrator.) He took my resume and told me, regretfully, that he didn’t foresee any openings in his operations.

The next day he called. The main writer in his office had given him a week’s notice, and he wondered if I would fill in while a search began for her replacement. He added that I could certainly apply for the permanent position. So the following Monday, the last in January, I began to commute to St. Cloud every day. The thirty-mile drive, I learned, gave me time to organize my day in the morning, and time to wind down from it in the evening.

On my second day in the public relations office, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in the Florida sky just more than a minute after it was launched. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but that horrible event can be seen in retrospect as an omen. In about May, my life – not a bad one at the time, as these things go – began to disintegrate as well, unraveling at the seams like a poorly sewn garment.

I don’t want to rehash the events of 1986, and I don’t want to bore anyone else with them. Let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, I could sit in my easy chair in Monticello and see, figuratively, the tatters of my life on the floor. It took a long time to clean up the mess and an even longer time – with a couple of false starts – to create a new garment in which to live my life.

So I wasn’t listening much to music in 1986, having other things on my mind. And in retrospect, that was good. If I had been attentive to music, then many of the tunes from the year would carry a layer of grief with them and would be nearly intolerable to hear even today. As it turned out, I generally absorbed the music of 1986 at a later date, so listening to the year’s music is not an unhappy exercise.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1986

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, A&M single 2857

“Precious Memories” by Bob Dylan from Knocked Out Loaded

“I Ain’t Drunk” by Albert Collins from Cold Snap

“Shanghai Surprise” by George Harrison with Vicki Brown, Shanghai Surprise soundtrack

“All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics, Atlantic single 89450

“Under African Skies” by Paul Simon from Graceland

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA single 52756

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, EMI America single 8307

“The Spirit” by the Moody Blues from The Other Side Of Life

“Something So Strong” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5695

“Still Around” by Robert Cray from Strong Persuader

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range from The Way It Is

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Welcome to the Boomtown” is one of the best singles that I think almost everyone forgets about. Its atmosphere, its story and its production values all sparkle as it tells its tale of dissolution, ennui and despair in the big city. Although Columbia, Missouri – which I’d left in 1985 – was no double for L.A., the reference to Denny’s always makes me think of the Denny’s along the freeway in Columbia. I would occasionally stop by for a late-night omelet, and the cast of characters I saw regularly there could easily populate a story set in any city about lives whirling into hard habits and out of control.

The Bob Dylan track is one of the lesser songs from one of his lesser albums. I had hoped that if a track from Knocked Out Loaded popped up during the random run, it would be “Brownsville Girl,” the eleven-minute epic Dylan wrote with playwright Sam Shepard. That track contains two of the more fascinating, disruptive and frankly strange verses ever to appear in a Dylan song:

“Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
“We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile.
“Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
“She said, ‘Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while.’
 
“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of bummin’ a ride back to where she started.
“But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
“She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead.’ You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
“She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’”

Sounds like Bob Dylan meets Sam Shepard to me.

If you don’t recall “Shanghai Surprise” even though you’re old enough to do so, that’s not really startling. It was the title tune to a film starring Madonna and Sean Penn, then newlyweds. George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced it, which is how the one-time Beatle ended up doing the soundtrack, which was never released as an album. There are a few single-sided 45s of the title tune out there, selling for more than $1,000. “Shanghai Surprise,” along with “Zig-zag,” a song from the film that had been released as the b-side of the single “When We Was Fab,” ended up as bonus tracks on a 2004 CD reissue of Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine.

“Amanda” came from Third Stage, Boston’s long-awaited and long-delayed third album. In general, I have little affection for the music labeled arena rock. Boston, however, I like, and “Amanda” may be my favorite track by the group. Listening to it today for the first time in a while, though, I hear echoes of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from three years earlier.

The Robert Cray tune is an album track from Strong Persuader, the record that made Cray famous and, to my mind, signaled the blues boom that was to come in the 1990s. Cray’s R&B-tinged blues have aged well.

I was glad to see something from Peter Gabriel’s So show up during the random run. I was never much of a fan of Genesis, so I was surprised by the depth and beauty of the album. Even twenty-one years after its release, it remains fresh and truly beautiful at points, which is a rare thing.

I Wish I’d Chosen Differently

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 26, 2007

I’m a story-teller, a writer, and my best gigs over the years – the ones that brought me the most satisfaction – are those that allowed me to focus on the writing, the story-telling that to me is the foundation of reporting.

It took me a long time to come to that realization, and along the way, I spent time teaching and time working as an editor and administrator. I also spent some time doing research in the banking and collections industries before health concerns pulled me from the workforce. I did most of those things well – I was not that good an administrator – but I never got from any of them the satisfaction I got from being a reporter, a story-teller.

When I was a kid, I used to go out to the golf course with my dad, walk around with him as he played nine holes. Every once in a while, his tee shot on the first hole would be a fair amount less than perfect, and if there was no one waiting behind us, he’d tee up another ball and take what he called a “mulligan.” I’m not sure where the term comes from – Wikipedia, as one might expect, offers several theories – but I do know that it’s not really consonant with the rules of golf. But every once in a while, Dad – and other golfers, too, of course – would give themselves a do-over, another chance.

If there were one decision in my life for which I wish I could take a mulligan, it would be one I made in early 1985. I’d finished my graduate school coursework and passed my comprehensive exams [at the University of Missouri], and I was a general assignment reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, one of the better small daily newspapers in the country (being located in the same city as one of the best journalism schools in the country provided the newspaper with a steady stream of good talent). And even though my editors worked hard to persuade me to do otherwise, I left Columbia to go back to Minnesota, planning on working on my master’s thesis from there and hoping to get a teaching job at St. Cloud State.

From the advantage of hindsight, I’d make a different decision. I never did finish my thesis; when I completed work for my master’s degree during another sojourn in Columbia six years later, I did so by way of a reporting project. In the interim, for not quite two years, I taught one course a quarter at St. Cloud State but never came close to a permanent faculty position there.

And knowing now that I always got more satisfaction out of reporting than I did out of teaching or anything else, I realize that I should have stayed in Missouri. My professional life would have been a lot smoother had I done so. My personal life? Well, I believe – and have done so for years – that we find those things we are meant to find, no matter how crooked the path might be. So, had I stayed in Missouri, perhaps the Texas Gal and I would have found each other sooner and would now be living in Columbia, or Dallas, or somewhere in Mississippi, or maybe even in St. Cloud. Who knows? But we would have been together eventually, no matter where our separate paths and preparatory lessons took us in the time before we met.

I don’t brood on that misstep from 1985. It does cross my mind on occasion, and it came to mind today because that was the year that I chose for this week’s Baker’s Dozen:

A Baker’s Dozen From 1985
“Trust Yourself” by Bob Dylan from Empire Burlesque

“Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, L.A. Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, A&M single 2703

“Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, RCA single 14136

“She’s Into Something” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” by John Parr from St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack

“Rumbleseat” by John Mellencamp from Scarecrow

“Talking Like A Man” by Linda Thompson, Warner Bros. single 28996

“She’s Waiting” by Eric Clapton, Warner Bros. single 28986

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, MCA single 52496

“Caislean Oir” by Clannad from Macalla

“You’re A Friend Of Mine” by Clarence Clemons with Jackson Browne, Columbia single 05660

“Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla single 1832

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Springsteen track is one of those collected on Live/1975-85, the massive album that came out in 1986.

The Showdown! Album released on Alligator Records by Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland was one of the better blues albums released in the years just before the blues boom that started just a few years later. Cray handles the vocal on “She’s Into Something,” and the first solo is his, while Collins provides the second solo.

There seem to be more singles in this batch of thirteen songs than usually pop up. Some of them – the Simple Minds and Mr. Mister tracks, especially – seem more to me like period pieces than things that stand very well on their own twenty-some years later. The Clapton, Petty and Clemons/Browne tracks have aged a little bit better than that but maybe only a little. The Stevie Wonder track, even as familiar as it is, still sounds fresh.

This was one of those years when I wasn’t listening too closely and have had to learn about in retrospect, but my sense is that it wasn’t all that great a year for music.

Afternote:
One of the things I noted as I was writing about my search through the files for a one-hit wonder last weekend was that I need to update my reference library. I got most of my reference books during the period 1988-1990. Now, most of the music I write about was issued before then, so there are not a lot of times when the lack of current information trips me up.

Saturday was one of them, as I failed to qualify my comment about the Bangles’ chart success and thus shorted them of five Top 40 records. I’m sure a number of people noticed; my friend Sean took the time to drop a note, which I appreciated. If I don’t soon get updated editions of my references, at least I’ll be a bit more careful to qualify my statements.