Posts Tagged ‘Swampwater’

Doing It Again

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 8, 2009

I was reminded this weekend of the summer of 1985:

I’d returned that February to Minnesota after eighteen months in graduate school in Missouri. I was doing some free-lance work, and sometime in April, to keep the budget from stretching as thin as tissue paper, I started working weekend overnight shifts at a local convenience store. While that was sometimes interesting, and while it fulfilled its purpose of keeping us from going broke, it wasn’t a lot of fun. But we do what we have to do.

Then, one weekday afternoon around the end of May, I got a call from DQ, the editor and publisher of the Monticello paper, my old boss. He said he’d heard I was working the graveyard shift, and he wondered if I’d like to spend my summer covering sports free-lance for the Times. As one might expect, that was a better prospect than manning the counter at Tom Thumb. So I soon found myself back among familiar faces, covering town team baseball, slow-pitch softball, American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball and all the bits and pieces that make up the summer sports scene in a small town.

I’d covered all of those before, of course, during the nearly six years I’d been a reporter and then the news editor at the paper. But there was something different (different beyond the financial structure, that is). For some reason, in early 1985, baseball – the game and its history – captured my attention. I bought my first tabletop game (after occasionally battling Rob during visits to his house). I bought the first serious bits of a baseball library, with one of the first volumes being The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. And when DQ called and offered me the sports department for the summer, with its emphasis on baseball, I was ready.

I’d reported on baseball before, of course, covering six seasons of high school ball in Monticello and nearby Big Lake, and spending six summers writing accounts of the town team’s efforts. But I’d never really had more than a basic grasp of the game. Now I was digging more deeply, reading about the game’s history, yes, but also learning how to watch baseball more analytically, learning how to see a game as it was played.

The coach of Monti’s American Legion team that summer, though he was not much older than I, was one of the town’s old baseball hands. His history and that of recent baseball in Monticello were intertwined. He’d played high school and Legion ball for Monticello and for years had been the manager, organizer and No. 1 pitcher for the town team. No longer able to play, he was coaching the American Legion squad, and when he noticed how much more I’d learned about baseball and how eager I was to learn more, he invited me – during those evenings I was covering his team – to sit in the dugout and keep the scorebook.

Very soon, I was spending my evenings with the Legion team even when I wasn’t covering the game, per se. I became in some ways part of the team, and my reporting about the team and its games became better for that.

(That’s one of the unique qualities about small-town journalism, that one can sometimes be a part of the community events one reports about. Becoming attached to the local American Legion baseball team provides little chance for conflict of interest, of course, although there are scenarios where such a conflict could arise. [Given that I was covering only sports that summer, the most likely possibility, I would think, would be something regarding broken eligibility rules and forfeits.] But during my earlier years at the Monticello paper, I was a member of the local school district’s community education policy board, and I was active in Democratic politics. That works in a small town – and Monticello at the time was home to a little more than three thousand folks – because people in town know you as more than a byline in the weekly paper, and either trust you a little more or else know where to find you when they want to complain. I’d hazard that the smaller the community, the more frequently one will find folks from the local paper filling other roles in town that seem to bring the possibility of conflict of interest. As one heads up the population ladder, however, the greater distance between a reporter and his or her audience makes such involvement less frequent and less wise.)

It felt good to be accepted in the dugout and on the field that summer. Even opposing coaches of teams we played – and my use of “we” indicates how I still feel about that Monti team – recognized me and nodded at me when our paths crossed before games. The most important thing to me about that summer of American Legion baseball, however, was being a better baseball writer. I’d been okay during the six years that had come earlier. But because of my reading, because of a new-found love of the game, I was better prepared. I had a second chance to something I loved and to do it better than I had before.

I thought of that summer of 1985 and my second chance to write about baseball this weekend because this post – the first real post at my new digs on WordPress – is the start of my second chance at a music blog. I’m not sure how different this version of Echoes In The Wind will be from the one that Blogger deleted last week. Maybe very little. I do have a sense that I won’t be posting six days every week, as I ended up doing there. (The Saturday Single will continue, though, starting with No. 148 four days from now.) There may be great changes beyond the location and the appearance, or the blog may be much the same. I don’t know.

All I really know is that Echoes In The Wind has a home again.

A Six-Pack of Again
“Back On The Street Again” by Swampwater from Swampwater [1971]
“Don’t Let Me Down Again” by Richard Torrance & Eureka from Belle of the Ball [1975]
“Play It Again” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks [1975]
“Born Again” by Emily Bindiger from Emily [1971]
“Sunshine In My Heart Again” by the Sanford/Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant Fire [1977]
“Back Here Again” by Cold Blood from Lydia Pense & Cold Blood [1976]

Swampwater, notes All-Music Guide, is better remembered here in the U.S. as Linda Ronstadt’s first backing band after her time with the Stone Poneys. “Back On The Street Again” comes from the group’s second album, the group’s first on RCA. (The group’s debut, on Starday/King, was similarly titled Swampwater; I’ve on occasion seen the second album, the RCA record, titled Swamp Water, but I’ve gone with the more common single-word spelling, confusing though it may be.) The song here may ring a few sonic bells in listener’s heads. The Stone Poneys recorded it for their final album, Evergreen, Vol. 2, and the Sunshine Company had a minor hit with the song, with the record spending three weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 36. Swampwater’s version kind of falls in a niche between the sweet pop of the Sunshine Company and early country rock, tending toward the latter when the steel guitar solo pops up.

“Don’t Let Me Down Again” is a Lindsey Buckingham tune that showed up on Buckingham Nicks in 1973 and has popped up in a few other places, including Belle of the Ball, a 1975 album by Richard Torrance and his band Eureka. Torrance’s version of the tune has some similarities to Fleetwood Mac, which entered its California rock era during the same year, 1975.  Belle of the Ball was one of two albums Torrance released on the Shelter label, started by Leon Russell; three more came on Capitol. I like his stuff; it’s post-hippie California rock, but sometimes it seems just a shade more muscular than that description would lead one to expect. Some more of Torrance’s stuff just might show up here soon.

Ray Thomas is, as All-Music Guide points out, “of a handful of well-known flute players in rock music.” And he’s spent most of his professional life playing that flute for one band: The Moody Blues. From Mighty Oaks was recorded and released during the hiatus the band took between 1972’s Seventh Sojourn and 1978’s Octave. Interestingly, a look at the credits at AMG – assuming they’re complete – shows that no other member of the Moodies was involved in Thomas’ first solo album. (He also released Hopes, Wishes and Dreams in 1976.) Nevertheless, From Mighty Oaks sounds like a Moodies album, as one might expect. And it’s perhaps overdone, at times. But at the very worst, it’s pleasant, and at the time – when listeners and fans had no firm indication if the Moody Blues were going to record again – it was one of several solo projects that helped fill the gap.

Emily Bindiger is an American actress and singer. Her bio at Wikipedia is filled with impressive credits: She’s a member of the a capella group The Accidentals. She’s recorded for soundtracks for movies such as The Stepford Wives, One Life to Live, Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, Donnie Brasco, The Hudsucker Proxy, Michael Collins and many, many more. And those are just a few highlights from her entry. But Wikipedia doesn’t mention one of the most interesting things about her; nor does her page at The Accidentals website: In 1971, when she was sixteen, Emily Bindiger recorded an album of what the blog Fantasy called “folk psych” with the French band Dynastie Crisis. “Born Again” is from that album, titled simply Emily, and is a pretty good example of what the record offered. The music can be a bit spare, but I like it. (Thanks for Fantasy for the rip.)

“Sunshine In My Heart Again” is a decent track from the second album by Ed Sanford and John Townsend and their band.  There is some confusion in various sources about the album’s title and the band’s name. Most sources call the album Smoke From A Distant Fire, while AMG appends the word The to the beginning. And while the band’s name on the album cover is clearly Sanford and Townsend, the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits calls the group the Sanford/Townsend Band. Of course, that latter might have been the credit on the hit single pulled from the album. The hit, as I’d imagine most of you know, was the title track, ”Smoke From A Distant Fire,” which went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1977.

“Back Here Again” comes from Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, the last album Cold Blood released during its run in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The group has released two CDs in the past few years; the first is an album of live performances from 1973 and the second is an album of new material, 2005’s Transfusion.) Still funky, with Lydia Pense still singing well, Lydia Pense & Cold Blood – which was released in 1976 on ABC – evidently got little attention. And that was too bad. Cold Blood was one of those groups that, with a little bit of luck, could have reached the top tier. The same can be said for a lot of groups and performers, I know, but not many of them were as tight, as funky or as good as Cold Blood.

Saturday Single 669

December 14, 2019

I missed putting up a Saturday Single the other week. We were a little busy around here, and I was lagging behind because of a cold. Legitimate reasons, both, but I don’t like leaving this space blank on a Saturday. I would guess that’s happened less than ten times since this blog began in late January 2007.

So I’m here mostly to fill space today. I’m still fighting the cold, which is morphing into one of my frequent sinus infections. And my attention is at least partly on a football game between North Dakota State University and Illinois State, a national quarterfinal game. (My affection for NDSU’s Bison is one of the remnants of my two-year stay in Minot, North Dakota, in the late 1980s.)

So here, by default, is a track titled “Dakota” by the band Swampwater. (It’s a song about a dancing bear named Dakota instead of about North Dakota or South Dakota, but never mind.) It’s from the group’s 1971 self-titled album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

One More Trip Across ‘The Atsville Bridge’

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 26, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, when I posted versions by Crow and Gator Creek of “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll,” I mentioned that as far as I knew, I’d never heard the Crow version, even though the band was from Minnesota and the record had made a small dent in the chart, reaching No. 52 in late 1970.

The post drew a comment from regular visitor Yah Shure, who said, in part:

“So, what rock was whiteray hiding under in 1970? 🙂 I heard the Crow version a lot on KRSI, and probably KQRS in the Twin Cities and bought the 45. But it didn’t fare well at the local top-40s. While KDWB aired it for a few weeks, WDGY, not surprisingly, shunned it altogether.”

And in the listing of radio stations lay the answer of why I had no recollection of the Crow version of the song. Yah Shure grew up in the western ’burbs of the Twin Cities, while I was in St. Cloud, seventy miles or so distant. At that time, up here in the hinters, we couldn’t get KQRS without connecting our radios to our television antennas. And KRSI, well, I’d never heard of it.

My Top 40 listening in those days – my senior year of high school – was KDWB from the Twin Cities during the day and then either WJON just across the railroad tracks or WLS from Chicago in the evening. So my only chance of hearing the Crow single was on KBWD, and I evidently didn’t.

Or maybe I did, once or twice. I don’t know. I obviously didn’t hear the song frequently enough for it to make an impression. But then, I’m sure I heard a lot of stuff one or two times over the years without really being impressed. And I cannot think of any song that I heard just once or twice and still remember.

So I’m not sure which rock it was that sheltered me from a pretty good single in the fall of 1970.

Anyway, as I also mentioned during that Saturday post two weeks ago, I found online and purchased a 45 of “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll” as recorded by the song’s composer, Jeff Thomas. (All four versions of the song – by Thomas, Crow, Gator Creek and Long John Baldry – use different punctuation, which I find odd and a little frustrating.) That record arrived last week, and I thought I’d go ahead and share it, along with a somewhat random sample of five other songs from 1970. (In other words, if a random selection doesn’t please me, I reserve the right to skip to another random choice.)

A Six-Pack from 1970

“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll” by Jeff Thomas, Bell 941

“Piece Of My Heart” by Bettye LaVette, SSS International 839

“A Woman Left Lonely” by Janis Joplin from Pearl

“Temma Harbour” by Mary Hopkin, Apple 1816

“Lousiana Woman” by Swampwater from Swampwater

“You’re The Last Love” by Petula Clark from Blue Lady: The Nashville Sessions

Thomas does pretty well with his own composition, growling gruffly in front of an arrangement that was pretty standard for the time. I don’t think he quite nails the song as well as did Long John Baldry, but that’s not a disgrace. Thomas had a few other singles released on Bell, but none of them became hits.

Once Janis Joplin got hold of “Piece of My Heart” when she was with Big Brother & the Holding Company, she made it risky, at best, for anyone else to give a shot at recording the Bert Berns/Jerry Ragovoy song. Erma Franklin had recorded it before Joplin did and did it well, but Joplin’s 1968 performance in front of the ragged and acid-drenched backing of BB&HC made the songs hers. Nevertheless, two years later, Bettye LaVette gave it a shot. Her version is certainly less urgent than Joplin’s, and it’s not bad, but I’m not sure LaVette brings anything new to the song.

Speaking of Janis Joplin, I think her performance on “A Woman Left Lonely” is closer to the heart of Pearl, the album released after her death, than anything else. “Me and Bobby McGee” was the single, but I’ve thought since the first time I heard the album – I got it for graduation in the spring of 1971 – that “A Woman Left Lonely” was the best thing on the record. It still gives me chills.

Mary Hopkin – after being discovered by the Beatles and recorded for their Apple label – was prone to light, frothy and nostalgic singles: “Goodbye” and “Those Were The Days” were the hits. “Temma Harbour” is not quite so frothy and has a tropical lilt to it that I like, so it’s not nearly as wearisome as the other stuff. (Temma Harbour is located on the north coast of the Australian island of Tasmania.)

I don’t know a lot about Swampwater, but ­All-Music Guide notes that the group is better known as Linda Ronstadt’s backing group from the late 1960s. “Louisiana Woman” comes from the group’s 1970 album that was recorded for Starday/King but was unreleased at the time. It finally came out in 1995, making Swampwater another beneficiary of the mid-1990s rush to release stuff from the vaults. In this case, it’s worth it.

I first came across Petula Clark’s Blue Lady: The Nashville Sessions in a small suburban library during the brief time that the Texas Gal and I lived in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth. Intrigued, I took it home. As one might surmise, Clark went to Nashville in 1970 hoping to revitalize her career. I don’t think that any of the resulting tracks were released as singles; I know that the full package was finally released in 1995. It’s not rock, of course. It’s not even really country, despite the Nashville location. It’s pop, but it’s beautiful work, and it probably sounds better now that it would have then. “You’re The Last Love” has become a favorite of mine.