Posts Tagged ‘Sisters Love’

A Baker’s Dozen of Tomorrows

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 14, 2007

I remember reading a piece – likely in the newspaper – about a linguistics professor who had taken it upon himself to determine the most beautiful word in the English language. I don’t recall when I read that, nor do I remember which university was involved, but I do recall that the professor concluded that the most beautiful word in the language was “cellar door.”

First of all, that’s two words. (It could be that the professor was considering sets of words.) Second, although the two words together do have a nice sound, words are more than sounds. Maybe as a linguist, one can separate the sound of the word from the meaning of the word, but as a writer, I can’t. And “cellar door” isn’t going to make the cut.

So what are the most beautiful words in the language? After all, if I’m going to quibble about someone else’s judgment, I’d better have some idea of my own, right? Well, I don’t have a Top Ten list, but I do have a couple of words. I think “home” and “tomorrow” top the ranks of English words.

Home, as poet Robert Frost noted, is our last refuge: the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. We all need such a place. In fact, I don’t think it’s at all far-fetched to say that, whatever else we do with our lives, our main business here is seeking and creating a better refuge, a better place, a better home. In terms of pure sound, it’s a rather plain word, but its meaning makes “home” the sound of belonging somewhere. When we don’t have that, we ache, and when we find it, we are healed. How much better can one word be?

“Tomorrow” comes close. For someone as attuned to the past and as intrigued by memoir and memory as I am, it’s odd in a way that I didn’t select “yesterday” as one of my top two words. But as much as any of us might ponder yesterday and its lessons, we know all about it. And “tomorrow” brings the promise that things can change, that we can use yesterday’s lessons to make things better as they come to us. (Writing that sentence made me realize that there are two other very nice words to consider: “promise” and “change.” Well, another day, I guess.) Thinking about tomorrow is an act of optimism, it seems, maybe even an act of courage, even if all one is doing is putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

I had planned to rip and post an album today, but the Texas Gal is taking a day off from work and we have holiday preparations to make, so I will invest my time there. In the meantime, I got a note from a reader who asked for a specific song with the word “tomorrow” in its title, and that got me thinking. I’ll get back to “home” and “hope” and “promise” down the road, but for now, we’ll start with the requested song and go randomly from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Tomorrows

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, 1967

“Tomorrow” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Uni single 55046, 1967

“Tomorrow and Me” by Mike Nesmith from And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’, 1972

“Till Tomorrow” by Don McLean from American Pie, 1971

“Tomorrow” by Fanny from the Fanny Hill sessions, 1972

“You’re My Tomorrow” by Richie Havens from Now, 1991

“All Our Tomorrows” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart, 1987

“Love Me Tomorrow” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees, 1976

“Goin’ Home Tomorrow” by Dr. John from Goin’ Back to New Orleans, 1992

“Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles from Revolver, 1966

“Waiting For Tomorrow” by Bettye LaVette from the Child Of The Seventies sessions, 1973

“Beginning Tomorrow” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“This Time Tomorrow” by Sisters Love, Manchild single 5001, 1968

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

The Glenn Yarbrough track is a Bob Dylan song, one that Dylan wrote in 1962 or so but left unreleased until his second greatest hits album came out in 1971. Yarbrough’s was the first version I heard, and I like it pretty well, but over the years, I’ve come to value the version Dylan released in 1971, which came from a 1963 concert in New York.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock track has its place in history. It reached No. 23 in early 1968 and thus kept the West Coast group from being a One-Hit Wonder. The group’s only other chart entry was, of course, “Incense & Peppermints,” which reached No 1 for one week in 1967.

Once his time in the Monkees ended, Michael Nesmith put together a string of generally very good and sometimes great country rock albums, starting in the late 1960s and continuing through much of the 1970s. His 1972 release, And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, is likely the best of those.

Not long ago, I shared Fanny’s version of the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog.” The track “Tomorrow” comes from the same sessions.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” was one of John Lennon’s first excursions into tape-loop and odd sound psychedelic experimentation, a track that startled first-time listeners to Revolver when it came on after the Motown-influenced horns of “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

As regular readers might know, Joy of Cooking is one of my favorite relatively obscure bands of the 1970s. “Maybe Tomorrow” is one of the best tracks from Castles, the Berkeley-based band’s third and final release.

I’ve written about Sisters Love before, when I posted their cover of “Blackbird.” “This Time Tomorrow” is a sweet piece of pop soul.

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 Treasure Found Who Knows Where

April 26, 2011

Originally posted July 17, 2007

As I wandered through the collection last evening in search of an interesting cover version to share this week, it struck me that I could easily go for months sharing nothing but covers of Bob Dylan songs.

I mean, I’ve got eleven cover versions along of “All Along the Watchtower,” six of “I Shall Be Released” and four of “Lay, Lady, Lay.” And that’s without really looking hard through the collection. Some of those were tempting for this week – I looked real hard at a couple of tracks by Richie Havens – but as I posted a Bob Dylan cover last week, I thought I’d find another original source for this week.

So I began to make a list of titles of cover songs to consider. I got about halfway through “B” before something grabbed me very hard.

A while back, before I was really serious about blogging, I ran across a great share at another blog. A month or so later, and I would have had the sense to keep track of where I found it so I could give credit. But I don’t know where I was wandering in the world of music blogs that day, and an hour of searching with Google last night didn’t bring me anything I recognized.

The group is Sisters Love. According to the blog Disco Delivery, Sisters Love was made up of former Raelettes – Ray Charles’ backing singers – including Merry Clayton. The group recorded for a while at A&M, getting a few singles out but never hitting it big. The group moved to Motown, with Clayton departing. There, Sisters Love released singles on Motown and its affiliated labels but again, didn’t hit. The group never released an album.

According to Kent Browning, a reviewer at Amazon.com, the original roster – in addition to Clayton – was Vermettya Royster on lead vocals, Jeanne Long, Lillie Fort and Gwen Berry.

It’s sometimes amazing that music as good as that recorded by Sisters Love can be released and then be for the most part ignored. As far as I can tell, none of the group’s records went anywhere on the charts, certainly not into the Top 40. Eventually, there is some justice, however. Last year, the Soul Jazz label released Give Me Your Love, a sixteen-track anthology of the Sisters Love’s recordings from about 1968 into 1973 or so. I’ve heard it a couple of times, and every track is a keeper. (The CD is available through Amazon.com.)

So thanks to whatever blog it was that made today’s Tuesday Cover possible: Sisters Love’s take on the Lennon-McCartney tune “Blackbird.”

Sisters Love – “Blackbird” [A&M 1178, 1970]