Posts Tagged ‘The Band’

Hoping To Hear One From The List

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 11, 2009

More than a year ago, on the Saturday when I would see Richie Havens in concert, I shared here a list started long ago of specific songs by specific performers that I hoped to see live. While it had never been written down until the day of that post, the list was something I’d started in the spring of 1972. My sister’s 1971 Christmas present to me had been two tickets to any concert I wanted to see in the Twin Cities. Eventually, I chose to go see Joe Cocker at the now-razed Metropolitan Sports Center. (He had two opening acts that evening: Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show and Bobby Whitlock.)

On our drive to the Cities, Rick and I talked, of course, of what we wanted to hear Cocker perform. My main selection was “Delta Lady.” I think he was hoping for “Bird On The Wire.” And we began to talk about what songs we’d like to hear by other performers, were we ever lucky enough to see them in concert. Since then, I’ve kept a list in my memory of such hopes.

As a caveat to the list, I wrote here in January of 2008:

“I should note that there are many other performers I’d like to see, many of them more current than those here on this list. Some that some immediately to mind are Joss Stone, Tift Merritt, Grace Potter & the Nocturals, David Gray, Colin Linden, Ollabelle and the Dixie Chicks. But I have no one song that immediately comes to mind for those acts.”

And then I shared, in no particular order, the song/performer pairings that have been on my list over the years. The notes in parentheses indicate the dates and places where in fact, I heard that entry.

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (October 4, 1973, Århus, Denmark)
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (July 1989, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney (September 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Layla” by Eric Clapton
“American Pie” by Don McLean (Early 1987, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“That’s The Way God Planned It” by Billy Preston (Spring 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Imagine” by John Lennnon (No longer possible)
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Angel of Harlem” by U2
“The Weight” by The Band (Summer 1994, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood
“Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith
“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Summer 1974, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker (April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota)
“She Was Waiting . . .” by Shawn Phillips (Early 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond (September 1971, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King (August 1995, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Follow” by Richie Havens

When I shared that list, I was hopeful that I’d be able to enter a date and place for Havens’ “Follow.” But faced with a vast catalog from more than forty years of recording, Havens bypassed “Follow” in the course of a remarkable concert. Was I disappointed? Only a small bit.

Come sometime this evening, I should be able to add a date and place after “Born To Run” in the list above: The Texas Gal and I have tickets to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tonight at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. We’re pretty high up – in the highest section of the arena, I think – but we’re on the side of the stage and in the front row of our section. We’ll be pretty much directly across the arena from where we sat when we saw Paul McCartney, and those were pretty good seats.

So here, in anticipation, is a selection of five covers of Springsteen songs and his own idiosyncratic alternate take on “Born To Run.”

A Six-Pack of Springsteen Covers (Almost)
“Atlantic City” by The Band from Jericho [1993]
“Because The Night” by the Patti Smith Group from Easter [1978]
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by the Hollies from Another Night [1975]
“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from This Time It’s For Real [1977]
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication [1981]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen (live) from Chimes of Freedom [1988]

A Sad Springtime Scene

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 8, 2009

Early this morning, the Texas Gal called me to the dining room window. “Look at the end of the driveway” she said, pointing.

And there, not far from the sidewalk and moving parallel to Lincoln Avenue – a fairly busy street – was a mama duck followed by her ducklings. We couldn’t tell how many there were as they pushed through the grass to keep up with her, but all of them were making pretty good time across the lawn toward Thirteenth Avenue, which is a less busy street.

I wandered outside and down near the edge of the lawn, just to see which way she’d take her brood. My guess was that she’d eventually have to cross Lincoln and, after that, the railroad tracks: About a half-mile up, there’s a large drainage pond in front of the public works building on the far side of the tracks from us.

Mama and her ducklings stepped down from the curb into the street as a car sailed past. I looked both ways and saw no traffic coming, and Mama scooted across the street, her brown and gold fluffballs following. I counted nine of them. Once across the street, Mama hopped up onto the cure and into the taller grass. The ducklings tried to follow. The last one in line jumped up, fell and flipped on his back. He (it could have been a she, I know) lay there thrashing his wings, unable to get up.

I’d not intended to interfere when I went down to watch, but I couldn’t stand to see him like that. I dashed across the street and lifted him up to the grass. As I did, the other eight ducklings headed left, along the gutter, parallel with mama’s path on the grass above. And they were heading straight toward a storm sewer grate. I got five of them before they fell in; three tumbled into the water some feet below. I looked down into the grate and could not see them in the dimness. But I could hear them.

And Mama would not leave. She was confused: She could hear her lost ducklings chirping from below the street, but she could not find them. She waddled back and forth, past the grating in the street, pausing every once in a while to keep her other ducklings in a group in the taller grass. Eventually, the mama duck stopped pacing and stood guard on the curb above the grate, her remaining six ducklings huddled around her. I watched for a few moments, then sadly walked back across the street and up to the house where the Texas Gal was waiting.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved,” she said.

“There are storm drains everywhere,” I said. “And other risks.” She nodded.

I came back into the house, wondering if I’d made things worse. And I don’t know. As I watched from the dining room window, the Texas Gal stopped her car next to the storm drain on Lincoln and got out. I couldn’t tell what she was doing. She called after she got to work.

“I saw her standing on the curb,” she told me, “and I thought that if I could get her to move far enough away so she couldn’t hear the ones in the drain, she might move on.” So she’d moved slowly toward the mama duck and her ducklings, gently guiding them on a path toward the public works building down the street and across the tracks. The diminished family did move on, the Texas Gal said.

I called the city’s public works department and told them what I’d seen, and the man I talked to said he’d get word to the folks who handled such events. “I don’t know what their policy is,” he told me, “but I’ll get word to the right people.”

I don’t have much hope for the three that fell, but I sure hope that Mama Duck and her remaining six babies got to the pond at the public works building.

The Band: Jubilation

The first thing one notices about Jubilation, the 1998 CD that turned out to be the last album in The Band’s long history, is the sound of old: fiddles, snare drums, accordion and – perhaps the most important – voices that sound weary or at least long-used. Is this rock ’n’ roll? Americana? Looking back from eleven years after the CD came out and nearly ten years since the death of Rick Danko, the label doesn’t really matter. It comes to mind that this is how music – in a lot of ways – sounded in small American communities before we all listened to the radio and the stereo and our mp3 players.

The Band was always a little out of step with the rest of the musical world, its five original members comprising a band of brothers who all stepped to the rhythm of Thoreau’s distant drummer. On the cover of their second album, The Band, the photo of the five of them – Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson – looks as if it comes from a Civil War history or an account of desperate men on the American frontier of about the same time. And their music – from Music From Big Pink in 1968 through Jubilation – was the same: Out of touch (sometimes less so, sometimes more) with the trends and styles of the day and utterly in touch with something deeper in the American soul.

Yes, I know the original group was made up of four Canadians and one U.S. citizen; but, to take care of the linguistic point first: Canada is a part of North America. Beyond that, for all our differences – and there are some significant ones – the rural portions of English Canada are not that far different from the rural portions of the southern U.S., and the experiences of those communities as they grew were not that dissimilar. I’ve read over the years some accounts of growing up in rural Canada shared by Danko and Richard Manuel that sound very much – in terms of community and music – like tales from Levon Helm’s South. If those experiences had been too much unlike, then Robbie Robertson could never have written the songs for the group’s first incarnation as well as he did, as many of the songs were inspired by Helm’s tales of his native South.

To underline that, consider what All-Music Guide says about the area of Ontario where Danko was born and raised. It is, AMG says, “populated by a large number of families descended from expatriate Southerners from the United States, and the echoes of Southern culture ran through the music and language in the area, with a special emphasis on country music.”

Well, not to belabor the point, but The Band always sounded unlike any other group, and the roots of its music were found in rural Canada as well as in the rural U.S. And Jubilation is not far at all from those roots. As writer Greil Marcus says in the notes to the CD: “[T]he rickety feeling of the faster rhythms, the way voices curl together around lines than can carry no date (‘Ain’t that somethin’/The big doghouse thumpin’’) is at once old and unheard, a sound that only has to be heard for the first time to feel as if it’s being remembered.”

It’s obvious that I like Jubilation. I’ve enjoyed every one of The Band’s albums since I first heard The Band nearly forty years ago. (Well, I don’t listen to Cahoots a lot.)* It’s a relaxed album, easy to listen to and easy to like. The highlights? Well, I particularly like the opener, “Book Faded Brown” and two others: “Last Train To Memphis” and “Kentucky Downpour.” And there’s only one track on the CD that doesn’t work so well for me: “Spirit of the Dance” seems somehow trite.

One of the things notable about Jubilation is that much of the material is written – or at least co-written – by members of The Band. The only tracks that are covers are Paul Jost’s “Book Faded Brown,” John Hiatt’s “Bound by Love” and Allen Toussaint’s “You See Me.” The other eight tracks have at least one and sometimes more members of the group credited as writers (sometimes writing with folks from outside the group).

Two famous friends show up during the proceedings: Eric Clapton adds his guitar to “Last Train to Memphis,” and Hiatt takes a vocal turn on his own “Bound by Love.”

Finally, one notable track is “White Cadillac,” which is subtitled “Ode to Ronnie Hawkins,” the rockabilly singer with whom the original members of The Band got their start so many years ago.

Tracks
Book Faded Brown
Don’t Wait
Last Train to Memphis
High Cotton
Kentucky Downpour
Bound by Love
White Cadillac
If I Should Fail
Spirit of the Dance
You See Me
French Girls

Jubilation by The Band [1998]

*I should also have noted Islands as one of The Band’s albums that gets little playing time here. Note added June 20, 2012.

‘If We Don’t Understand It . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 20, 2009

I don’t often comment here on public affairs. Not all folks who love music the way my readers and I do will agree when it comes to politics or current events, and I want to keep this a place where the only conflicts come from differing views on, say, the White Album.

But two comments in separate reports aired on the CBS Evening News Saturday and Sunday caught my ear, and I thought both were worth mentioning:

First came a piece aired Saturday by Jeff Glor, looking at why “Canada is the only industrialized nation in the world without a single bank failure in the current economic downturn.” Glor talked to, among others, Ed Clark, the chief executive officer of the Toronto Dominion bank. Glor and Clark talked about subprime mortgages and the related topic of toxic mortgage-backed securities, which Glor described as “risky loans that were chopped up and resold in countless different ways.”

Many banks, Glor said, “gobbled up the now virtually worthless investments. Ed Clark got out four years ago saying they were just too complex.”

Clark told Glor: “As soon as you see that complexity, you say, ‘How can I possibly think I actually can guess whether this will work or not?’ And as soon as I hear that, I say, ‘Get out of it.’”

Then on Sunday, CBS’ Sheila MacVicar filed a piece on the only financial institution in Iceland that did not lose money for its customers during the near-collapse of that nation’s banking system. The company, Audur Capital, happens to have been founded by two women, which is where MacVicar found her hook for the story. MacVicar asked Audur’s Halla Tomasdattir – one of the two founders, one assumes, though she was not identified as such – and others whether our current economic woes might have been avoided if more women had been involved in finance.

MacVicar reports that the answer is “maybe,” bringing in research involving the impact on trading results of high testosterone levels among male traders as well as research looking at the performances of offices with more women in them than is generally the case. All of that is interesting, but I think MacVicar glossed over a key point that she herself mentioned early in her report.

While showing Tomasdattir in a meeting with two men and another woman – the other woman being, one assumes, the other founder of Audur – MacVicar says in a voice-over that the firm was founded on the principle of “If we don’t understand it, we’re not buying it.”

So, to recap:

Toronto banker Ed Clark says “As soon as you see that complexity, you say, ‘How can I possibly think I actually can guess whether this will work or not?’ And as soon as I hear that, I say, ‘Get out of it.’”

And the founding principle of Iceland’s only financial institution not to lose money for its customers is: “If we don’t understand it, we’re not buying it.”

Sounds like common sense to me. Too bad there wasn’t more of that around.

And Now, To Some Music
Thankfully, I understand music well enough that I can buy it. And I do so frequently.

I celebrated my increasing mobility Saturday by walking into the Electric Fetus with only the barest hint of a limp and heading to the portion of the used CD stand that holds the new arrivals. And there, waiting for me, were two sweet finds: Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind from 1997 and Honky Château, the 1972 album by Elton John. Both fall under the category of albums I already have on vinyl that I wanted to duplicate on CD.

Eventually, I imagine, I’m going to try to collect the entire works – mainstream releases, anyway – of Bob Dylan on CD. I have, I believe, every official LP release of his stuff, and I’m well on the way to gathering in his work on CD. The Time Out Of Mind album was a pleasant surprise. I knew it was out there, but I’d never looked for it, given its relatively recent release date. (I got the album on vinyl when it was released; its availability on vinyl was a relief to me, as had been the vinyl release in 1995 of MTV Unplugged because two earlier releases in the mid-1990s – World Gone Wrong and Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 – had not been released on LP.)

As for Honky Château, it’s one of John’s few full albums that I enjoy, and it seemed a reasonable addition to the stacks, where Madman Across the Water already resided. We also have a couple of John’s hits packages on CD, and – with the possible addition of Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection – that will likely suffice.

There aren’t a lot of groups or acts that compel me to assemble a complete set: That pretty much comes down to Dylan, the Beatles and The Band. The vinyl work was completed on all three of those long ago, and the CD collections are under way. In fact, the first CD I bought for myself was one by The Band.

For Christmas 1998, my sister and her family gave me my first CD player, an Aiwa portable, along with Across The Great Divide, a three-CD box set of highlights from The Band’s career.

And one of the first purchases I made on CD was The Band’s High On The Hog, the second album of new material released by the 1990s version of the group. (I already had Jericho, the first 1990s release, on cassette, so I thought the CD could wait a bit.)

I recall wandering through the aisles of a Best Buy store in the southern Minneapolis suburb of Richfield one Saturday morning in February of 1999.( I’m not sure why I ended up at a Best Buy several miles from my home instead of the nearby Cheapo’s.) But in short order, I found the right spot in the CD aisles. And I found myself put off a great deal by the cover art for High On The Hog. Looking at it now, it’s not all that bad, but at the time, I thought it was a grotesque cover design. Still, it was The Band, so I pulled the CD from the shelf, paid for it and headed home for a listen.

How was it? Overall, it wasn’t as good as Jericho had been. Once again, the group relied almost entirely on covers for material, but in general, those covers worked well with the ensemble-style voices and with the genial Americana-inflected arrangements. The two songs with writing credits that include the group are “The High Price of Love,” credited to Stan Szelest, Jules Shear and The Band, and “Ramble Jungle,” a loose jam that is credited to Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, bassist Rob Leon, Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and blues legend Champion Jack Dupree, who does a guest spot.

Neither of those tracks is among the CD’s highlights. Those would be the group’s versions of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” as well as “Where I Should Always Be,” a song written by Blondie Chaplin, who adds guitar to another track on the CD, “I Must Love You Too Much.”

As on Jericho, Richard Manuel makes a posthumous appearance, this time in a performance of “She Knows” recorded with the now-deceased Rick Danko and Garth Hudson in 1986 at New York City’s Lone Star Cafe in January 1986. The inclusion of “Country Boy” on Jericho was a nice touch, but to my ears, “She Knows” adds very little to High On The Hog.

Still, it’s a pretty good album. The playing, as was almost always the case with The Band, is stellar, with the three new members – drummer Ciarlante, guitarist Weider and keyboard player Richard Bell – having settled well into an ensemble with original members Helm, Hudson and Danko.

Tracks
Stand Up
Back To Memphis
Where I Should Always Be
Free Your Mind
Forever Young
The High Price Of Love
Crazy Mama
I Must Love You Too Much
She Knows
Ramble Jungle

High On The Hog by The Band [1996]

Reposts
Rick Danko [1977]
Original post here.

Danko/Fjeld/Anderson by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen [1991]
and
Ridin’ On The Blinds by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen [1994]
Original post here.

The Return Of A Familiar Sound

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 6, 2009

After I utterly missed Rick Danko while looking at a 1980s video of The Band Thursday, I thought a little bit about the version of the group that formed in the 1990s, releasing three CDs and touring several times. And I wondered what songs, if any, I should offer here over the next month or two. So I clicked on over to All-Music Guide and then to Amazon.com to refresh my memory on who wrote what on the three 1990s albums.

And I learned that all three of those CDs – Jericho from 1993, High on the Hog from 1996, and Jubilation from 1998 – are out of print. There are copies for sale out there, but the three pages at Amazon noted that “This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer.”

I’m of two minds about that. First, I think it’s a shame. There’s a lot of music from the 1990s still in print that’s not anywhere near as good as The Band’s three albums from that decade. I acknowledge that the albums released by The Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s were far superior to what came later, especially the first three: Music From Big Pink (1968), The Band (1969) and Stage Fright (1970). But the three 1990s albums had their moments, too, and I think they deserve better. On the other hand, their being out of print frees me to share them here. We’ll start with the first of the three, 1993’s Jericho.

The 1990s group was made up of three original members of the group: Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and the now-departed Rick Danko. They were joined by Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell, who passed on in 2007.

And Jericho had a guest/ghost vocalist: The group recorded a backing for a vocal performance of “Country Boy” laid down by Richard Manuel in 1985, a year before he killed himself. I saw The Band in the mid-1990s in Minneapolis, and the best of a number of great moments in the performance came when the six musicians played the backing track to “Country Boy” with no vocal in front of it, their tribute to Manuel.

I got the album on cassette for Christmas in 1993, shortly after it came out, and it was difficult at the time to assess how good the album actually was. It was such a treat to hear the three members of the original group again, to hear Danko and Helm switch off vocals, to hear Hudson’s keyboard and woodwind artistry, and to hear the three of them collaborate with the three new players to create the rootsy sound that always defined The Band.

Digging past the sound and into the credits, the first thing one notices about Jericho is that the group wrote very few of the songs. In the original incarnation of The Band, of course, Robbie Robertson had – by The Band in 1969 – become the group’s main songwriter. (There’s some disagreement about that among members of the original group, but I’m just going by the writing credits as listed on the albums.) On Jericho, only three of the twelve tracks – “Remedy,” “The Caves of Jericho” and “Move to Japan” – list members of the group as writers, and always in collaboration with others.

That said, however, The Band’s collegial approach to music – both vocal and instrumental – makes the nine other songs, covers all, work just fine. Highlights to me are Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” along with “Country Boy” and the elegiac “Too Soon Gone.”

What doesn’t work? Well, nothing fails spectacularly. “Move to Japan” is kind of silly, but it clunks along all right. And “Amazon (River of Dreams)” doesn’t always work in its attempt to be atmospheric.

At the time the album came out, though, I don’t think there were a lot of quibbles from listeners and fans. The first track I heard was “Atlantic City,” which came on the radio late one evening as I was driving back to Minneapolis from Rob’s home. The mandolin introduction caught my ears, and I listened carefully as I drove. Then Helm began his vocal, and when I realized who it was – it took no more than ten seconds of surprised thinking – I grinned. I imagine a lot of other folks were grinning, too, at the return of a familiar sound.

Tracks:
Remedy
Blind Willie McTell
The Caves of Jericho
Atlantic City
Too Soon Gone
Country Boy
Move to Japan
Amazon (River of Dreams)
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Same Thing
Shine A Light
Blues Stay Away From Me

Jericho – The Band [1993]

Reposts
The Hawk – Ronnie Hawkins [1971]
Original post here.

Living By The Days – Don Nix ([971]
Original post here.

EW&F, ZZ Top & The Band

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 2, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Looking for videos of songs recently posted, the first thing I came across was labeled as a 1975 performance of “Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire:

Here’s a live performance of “La Grange” that ZZ Top evidently did for NBC (probably on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno sometime around 2005 although that date is pretty iffy):

I’m I’m not sure of the date of this next clip, but it’s got to be from sometime in the 1970s. It looks to be the original line-up of The Band – with some help from a few other folks – doing “Rag Mama Rag.” Levon Helm takes up his mandolin and Richard Manuel sits down at the drum kit. I can’t see Rick Danko, but I assume he’s just back in the shadow.*

I think that tomorrow, along with whatever I happen to write about, I’ll begin a series of reposts of albums that people have requested over the past few months. If you’ve asked for one and I don’t get to it during April, send me a gentle reminder. Thanks.

*After I posted this, I got a note from reader Jenaclap telling me what I should have spotted right away: Rick Danko in front on the acoustic guitar. I was too busy looking in the shadows for the bass player. And my dating of the clip was in error as well: The absence of Robbie Robertson (and the presence of other players) means that this clip is from the time of the first reunion of The Band from the early 1980s to 1986, when poor Richard Manuel killed himself. Note added shortly after original posting and revised May 16, 2012.

Edited significantly on archival posting.

I Wore My Tiger Every Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 30, 2009

The Texas Gal and I watch Friday Night Lights and enjoy it immensely. Based around the lives of the members of the fictional Dillon Panthers in West Texas, the show is about much more than high school football. It’s truly one of those rare television shows that finds its drama in the small workings of day-to-day life. That’s not to say that it’s entirely subtle, but it’s character-driven, and the folks who live in Dillon are generally finely drawn, not caricatures. They are folks who are changing – many of them young people who do so as they take on the hard work of growing up, of course – and sometimes the changes are surprising, just as they are in real life.

The episodes currently playing on NBC on Friday evenings were shown last fall on a satellite service, and during this season, as in the previous two, the producers do pretty well in fitting their characters’ stories into the subfolders of high school life, high school football and life in West Texas. There aren’t a lot of obvious mistakes. But I think I spotted one in the episode that ran last Friday.

The week’s climactic scene dealt with a confrontation between J. D. McCoy, a ninth-grade quarterback new to town, and his father. Nothing wrong with the drama, but in the scene – which followed a football game – J.D. was shown wearing a letter jacket with a “D” on the front and a football patch on the sleeve. Now, maybe they do things differently in Texas, but I’ve never heard of a high school where you could wear a varsity letter on a letter jacket before you’ve earned it. And being new to town, J.D. couldn’t yet have done so. (Maybe I’m wrong and there are places like that. Anyone know?)

It’s not a big deal, but for a show that generally gets the details right, it stood out. And it reminded me of my letter jacket.

I was a manager, not an athlete. I spent three seasons going to wrestling practices and keeping the scorebook; two seasons at football practices, hauling balls, pads and other stuff around; and one season tending to the training room for track. And among the rewards for doing all that stuff were three varsity letters and the right to wear a letter jacket.

It was March 1970 when I finished my second season as a wrestling manager. Near the end of the month, I got a letter in the mail from the high school’s athletic director. The letter granted me permission to go to Fitzharris Athletic downtown and buy a St. Cloud Tech letter jacket. So the following Friday evening, my folks and I went into Fitzharris and I presented the letter to the clerk. Shortly after that, I walked out wearing an orange and black jacket. The next day, my mom sewed a tiger head on the front, my name on the pocket and the year “71” on the sleeve. I remember how smooth the leather (or maybe simulated leather) sleeves were, a condition I wanted gone as soon as possible, as it identified me as a newbie.

(I got my actual letter, my “T,” at the athletic banquet that spring. I put it away in a box, as the tradition at Tech at the time was to wear the tiger head on the jacket instead of the letter. I never knew anyone who put his letter – and it was an exclusively male group in the early 1970s – on his jacket.)

Looking back, it’s amazing how much that jacket mattered to me: It made me feel as if I belonged somewhere. And I think I wore that jacket to school every day from then on, even as the weather turned warmer in the spring and then – during my senior year – even though there were days when the temperature dropped below zero. The other guys did the same, I think: If you’d earned the right to wear a letter jacket, you wore it.

I continued to wear the jacket around town during my first year of college. (For those interested, the etiquette for wearing your high school jacket during your college days was to remove your high school letter [or tiger, in my case], your graduation year and any patches other than your name.) Most likely, it was sometime during the spring of 1972, as my freshman year at St. Cloud State was ending, when I took the jacket off for the last time. By the time I got home from Denmark two years later, my mom had packed it away. And there it stayed until I took it with me when we closed the place on Kilian a few years ago.

It’s in a closet again, near the back, its usefulness gone. I certainly won’t wear it again. I have no one to leave it to, and I doubt that anyone else would want it. But I also doubt that I’ll ever get rid of it.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 28, 1970)
“Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9074 (No. 9)
“Psychedelic Shack” by the Temptations, Gordy 7096 (No. 24)
“Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade, London 20058 (No. 51)
“Rag Mama Rag” by The Band, Capitol 2705 (No. 58)
“Run Sally Run” by the Cuff Links, Decca 32639 (No. 77)
“Miss America” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45125 (No. 117)

A couple of weeks ago, I called “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board “chirping and warbling and absolutely wonderful.” It’s all that and more, one of the really great singles that I think tends to be a little overlooked. At the time of this particular chart, the record had just dropped from its peak position at No. 3; it would slide to No. 30 by April 25, its fifteenth week in the Hot 100, and then tumble completely out of sight by the next week’s chart.

‘Psychedelic Shack” seemed utterly weird at the time, especially for the Temptations, a group with records like “My Girl,” “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” in its pedigree. But “Shack” is what happened when producers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong were handed the reins. With “Psychedelic Shack,” the Whitfield and Strong pushed the boundaries they’d stretched with the No. 6 single “Cloud Nine” in late 1968, and “Shack” went to No. 7. The follow-up, “Ball of Confusion,” went to No. 3. (This is the album track and has the same running time as the single, but I don’t remember ever hearing the knocks on the door when the record played on the radio; maybe they were there, or maybe there was a radio edit without them. I don’t know.)

When it was on the charts, “Reflections Of My Life” seemed musically adventurous and lyrically important. I’m not sure how well “Reflections Of My Life” holds up as a piece of philosophy these days. I mean, “The world is a bad place, a bad place, a terrible place to live” isn’t Nietzsche; it isn’t even Lennon, for that matter. But the music, on the other hand, does owe something to Nietzsche (Jack, who worked with Phil Spector, not that German dude), with its horns and Wall of Sound-ish references. Maybe I’m still hearing this one with the ears of a high school junior, but man, I still love this record! At the end of March, it was still on its way up the chart, heading for a peak of No. 10.

I heard the second half of “Rag Mama Rag” on the radio – probably late at night on WLS from Chicago – sometime during the early months of 1970 and was frozen, staring at the radio as the song played out with its fiddle and honky-tonk piano. I didn’t catch the title or the name of the group, and I wondered for a long time what the hell it was I’d heard. I mentioned it to a few people I knew, and from my description, they said it sounded like country and they were sure I couldn’t have heard it on a Top 40 station. I quit asking people about it, and it wasn’t until the following Christmas when Rick gave me The Band that I learned what it was I’d heard. Utterly unlike anything being played at the time (probably well-defined as Americana before anybody thought about such a label), “Rag Mama Rag” never really had a chance of making the Top 40. It peaked at No. 57 the week of March 21; three weeks later, after eight weeks in the Hot 100, the record had dropped out.

“Run Sally Run,” the Cuff Links’ follow-up to their No. 9 hit “Tracy,” lasted six weeks in the Hot 100, with the March 28 position of No. 77 being its peak. There really were no Cuff Links, of course. What you got on the record was bubble-gum master Ron Dante and a bunch of studio musicians. Still, it wasn’t awful: It was fun, it had a good beat and you could chew it!

As I’ve noted here before, I do have a difficult time being at all objective about the Top 40 music of the second half of 1969 and all of 1970. Although I’d heard Top 40 before that – it would have been hard for any American kid to escape it – I’d not really listened until the late summer and autumn of 1969. So, as I’ve also said here before, when I think about and write about the music I heard during that period, I’m thinking and writing about old friends. Two of those friends are Mark Lindsay’s singles, “Arizona” (No. 10 in early 1970) and “Silver Bird” (No. 25 in the late summer of 1970). The single posted here is one that came in between the two, and to my mind, it’s a better single. Credited only to J. Kelly at All-Music Guide, the song is an allegory casting America as a young girl, with a nifty, if somewhat predictable, lyrical twist: “Do you miss America? I know I do.” The record, which peaked at No. 44, is pure pop with nothing of rock about it, and – not recalling it at all from 1970 – I wonder if the implicit political commentary kept programmers from playing it.

Saturday Single No. 106

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 27, 2008

The mailman dropped off a mystery a week ago today.

It was an envelope sent priority mail, and the return address was the Electric Fetus, a store that sells music, movies and loads of other goodies at its main store in Minneapolis as well as at branch locations in St. Cloud and in Duluth. I stop in the St. Cloud store frequently, but as I held the envelope, I couldn’t figure out what business the Electric Fetus would have with me.

I was even more baffled when I opened the envelope: Inside was a gift card worth a hundred dollars . . . and no indication who might have sent it to me. There were a couple editions of the store’s monthly newsletter, and I looked through them, looking for clues. Nothing.

The Texas Gal and I thought for a few moments, bringing up names of folks who might have sent me such a generous gift. We called a couple of them. No, they said. They weren’t responsible. The folks at the Minneapolis location of the store said they wished they could help, but they couldn’t. The second clerk I talked to there said the gift card might have been purchased in person, or it might have been bought online or even over the telephone. There was no way to know. So we’re still baffled.

And I keep waiting for a phone call or an email asking me if I received the gift. I hope that whoever sent the card gets in touch with me, because I wouldn’t want him or her (or them, I suppose) to think me ungrateful. I am very grateful, and I am very excited.

So along with wondering who might have been so generous, I’m heading out sometime today to the local Electric Fetus. I hope someone provides me with an answer. In the meantime, as long as we’re talking about mysteries, here’s The Band with Paul Butterfield with a scorching performance from 1976 of “Mystery Train,” today’s Saturday Single.

The Band with Paul Butterfield – “Mystery Train” [from The Last Waltz, 1976]

‘If I Was You, I’d Harvest . . .’

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 89, 2008

I got some good advice from my grandfather at least once.

I was twenty, and I’d recently returned from my time in Denmark. While I’d been gone, I’d grown my first beard and mustache, kind of by default. I’d been packing my backpack for a trip during a December quarter break, and I decided that I could save a little room by not packing my razor – a Schick injector, if I remember correctly – and the other things needed to shave. So I headed off into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, looking scruffier by the day, at least until the growth progressed enough to be considered a beard and mustache.

As I said, I was twenty, and the resulting foliage wasn’t lush. The mustache was okay, but the beard stayed pretty much confined to my jaw line; my cheeks were barren. But it was a lot easier not having to shave every day, especially during those times when I was wandering, living out of a backpack.

I came home in May, and a few days afterward (just days before I entered the hospital, which I wrote about the other day), I saw my grandparents – my mom’s folks – for the first time in almost nine months. My grandfather was eighty-two and had been a farmer all his life. He came up to me, looked closely at the growth on my face. He tugged at it lightly.

Then he nodded and said, “If I was you, I’d harvest this crop, fertilize and hope for better next year.”

It was another year and a half before I took his advice. I shaved off that first beard in December 1975, when I was interning in the sports department of a Twin Cities television station; I thought that being clean-shaven might increase the chances of getting some airtime and perhaps even getting a job. I kept the mustache, though.

And for the next twelve years or so, the beard came and went. I grew one a few years into my time at the Monticello newspaper and shaved it off one hot July day a couple years later. I let it grow out again during graduate school in Missouri and shaved it off about the time I moved back to Minnesota. And when I was teaching in Minot, I quit shaving during the 1987 Thanksgiving break, and that beard has stayed with me for more than twenty years now. And throughout all that, the mustache has stayed; my upper lip last felt a razor on December 5, 1973.

One of the things that means, of course, is that the Texas Gal – whom I met in 2000 – has never seen me clean-shaven. She occasionally suggests that she’d like to. I think about it, and I might shave for her someday. But as I’m not at all interested in shaving every day ever again, so I’d only grow it back right away. And the mustache would stay, no matter what.

The beard did fill in during my twenties, covering my cheeks quite nicely. But it’s no longer brown. I could call it “salt and pepper,” but only if I were willing to admit that whoever seasoned it used a lot more salt than pepper. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good beard. I think Grandpa would be proud of the crop.

Here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. We’ll start with the record that was No. 1 the week I first took my grandfather’s advice.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 3
“Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers, Curtom single 0109

“I Dreamed Last Night” by Justin Hayward & John Lodge from Blue Jays

“Arkansas Line” by Elvin Bishop, Capricorn single 0237

“As Surely As I Stand Here” by Tower of Power from In The Slot

“Naked in the Rain” by David Crosby & Graham Nash from Wind On The Water

“All About Love” by Earth, Wind & Fire from That’s The Way Of The World

“Pick Up The Pieces” by Doris Duke from Woman

“Livin’ For The Weekend” by the O’Jays from Family Reunion

“End of the Line” by Roxy Music from Siren

“Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, Warner Brothers single 8143

“Lonelier Are Fools” by the Three Degrees from With Love

“It Makes No Difference” by The Band from Northern Lights – Southern Cross

“Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck single 2256

A few notes:

“Let’s Do It Again” was the title song from a soundtrack written by Curtis Mayfield. After the success of Superfly in 1971, Mayfield composed a series of soundtracks that were generally pretty good, most of them much better than the films they backed. Let’s Do It Again, which I’ve never seen, starred Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, John Amos, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Oh, and that odd noise at the start of the song? It’s supposed to be that way. I pulled out the vinyl this morning and checked.

Blue Jays was one of several projects by members of the Moody Blues that surfaced in the mid-1970s. The group took a break after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn that lasted until 1978 and the release of Octave. Other albums came from Ray Thomas, the Graeme Edge Band and Mike Pinder. (There may be some I’m forgetting.) Of the various projects, I think Blue Jays turned out the best.

Doris Duke, a deep soul singer who’d been recording since the mid-1960s, released Woman on the Scepter label in the U.S. after it had been released on Contempo in Britain. While not up the quality of her 1969 album, I’m A Loser (recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia, and released on the soon-to-fail Canyon label), Woman, according to Jason Ankeny of All-Music Guide, is a “much-acclaimed set.” His fellow AMG reviewer, Andrew Hamilton says, however, “If you play this LP once, there’s no need to play it again; you didn’t miss anything the first time, and it doesn’t get any better the second time around.” Who’s right? I lean toward Ankeny’s assessment; it’s a pretty good record.

If I’m in the right mood, I generally enjoy hearing Roxy Music’s work, at least one track at a time. If I listen to entire albums – with the exception of 1982’s Avalon – the group’s music sounds cold and fussy. Siren seems less that way than the rest of the group’s 1970s output, I guess. But it still feels as if I’m listening to the group through a closed window, a barrier that the musicians aren’t the least bit interested in getting past.

“It Makes No Difference” was one of the last great songs The Band recorded during its original incarnation – “Acadian Driftwood,” also on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, is one as well – and one of the last great songs that Robbie Robertson wrote (nothing in his solo career has come close to the songs he wrote for The Band). One of The Band’s strengths was the ability to match a song with the appropriate voice, and here, Rick Danko’s yearning tenor – echoed by Garth Hudson’s soprano saxophone solo – fits perfectly. This track can melt your heart.

Of Heartsfield & Sneezes

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 12, 2008

Last November, I posted a Saturday Single from The Wonder Of It All, a 1974 album by a Midwest band called Heartsfield, a group I’d run across more or less by accident. (I have a sneaking suspicion that we find most of the musicians and groups we listen in that way: pure happenstance.) And I received a few notes from fans of the group, some of them offering assistance in helping me find the rest of Heartsfield’s oeuvre.

I took one of those readers up on that offer this weekend. Mark of St. Louis posted links for me of Heartsfield from 1973, Foolish Pleasures from 1975 and Rescue the Dog, a 2005 album by a band newly organized by one of Heartsfield’s co-founders. (Thanks much, Mark!) That brings me close to a complete Heartsfield collection. A 1977 album, Heartsfield Collectors Item, appears to be an album of new material rather than the compilation the title might imply.

Normally, on Monday, I’d post an album or some kind of themed collection as a Baker’s Dozen. But the pollen has attacked – I read in the Twin Cities newspaper last week that this is the worst year for spring allergies in some time. Well, I already knew that. And I spent much of the weekend wheezing and sniffling and not putting much time at all into thinking about what I would offer this morning. I have some interesting albums in the stack of things to rip, and I will get to one or two of them this week, as well as offer the rest of the week’s regular features.

For now, however, I’m going to let the universe do my work for me this morning. We’ll start with a song from one of the Heartsfield albums Mark provided for me, and from there, we’ll take a fifteen-song walk through the 1950-1999 junkyard.

A Walk Through The Junkyard
“I’m Coming Home” by Heartsfield from Heartsfield, 1973

“Kaval Sviri (The Flute Plays)” by Ensemble Trakia from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2, recorded at Plodiv, Bulgaria, 1982

“Naturally” by Fat Mattress from Fat Mattress 2, 1970

“By Today” by Batdorf & Rodney from Batdorf & Rodney, 1972

“Redneck Rhythm and Blues” by Brooks & Dunn from Borderline, 1996

“Abraham, Martin & John” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Interchords radio show, live, 1991.

“Pacific Coast Highway” by the Mamas & the Papas from People Like Us, 1971

“I’m A Woman” by Maria Muldaur from Waitress In A Donut Shop, 1974

“Ain’t It Hell Up In Harlem” by Edwin Starr from Hell Up In Harlem soundtrack, 1974

“Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

“Changes” by Gordon Lightfoot from Lightfoot!, 1966

“I Still Miss Someone (Blue Eyes)” by Stevie Nicks from The Other Side of the Mirror, 1989

“Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International single 3517, 1972

“The Moon Struck One” by The Band from Cahoots, 1971

“Lullaby” by Wishbone Ash from Pilgrimage, 1971

A few notes:

Visitors sometimes snort when I tell them I listen at times to Bulgarian choral music. But should one of the tracks pop up from one of the several such albums I have ripped to mp3s, well, my visitors’ eyes widen and their mouths open as they hear the odd intervals and impossibly close harmonies. The sound is alien to Western ears, and I don’t listen to a lot of it at one time, but it never hurts to know what other places sound like, and the musicianship on all of the Mystère Des Voix Bulgares albums – and on the Nonesuch label albums that preceded them – is impeccable.

Fat Mattress is where Noel Redding went in the late 1960s after his time as bassist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience was over. The group’s music was different from that of the Experience: far more based on the British folk-rock tradition and the psychedelic and progressive rock sounds that stemmed from that tradition. The two albums the group did are well worth hearing, if those sounds intrigue you. The group’s second album – from which “Naturally” comes – was slightly inferior to the first album, says All-Music Guide, but from a distance of more than thirty-five years, the differences don’t seem that significant.

John Batdorf and Mark Rodney made three albums in the early 1970s in a singer-songwriter/soft rock vein. The albums are pleasant but not very consequential. One of the joys of having a 500-gig external hard drive is that there is room to keep bits and pieces of pleasant marginalia if one so desires. The duo is similar to, but not quite as good as, Seals & Crofts.

The Boo Hewerdine/Darden Smith performance of Dick Holler’s wondrous “Abraham, Martin & John” is, to me, a highlight of both singers’ careers. The Interchords appearance had Hewerdine interviewing Smith along with performances by both. I’d love to hear the entire show. And I’d love to know who Stephen (Steven?) was. Listen to the song, and you’ll know what I mean.

The Mamas & the Papas, who had broken up in 1968, reunited in 1971 to record the album, People Like Us, simply to fulfill a contractual obligation. The album is better than one might expect of such an effort, but the group’s time had passed and the product sounded out of date and went nowhere.

Wishbone Ash is one of those bands I knew about in my youth but never listened to (given the vast number of groups at the time and since then, there are many such, I am certain). I ran across a track by Wishbone Ash at The College Crowd Digs Me about seven months ago and since then have slowly been taking in the group’s body of work. “Lullaby,” along with the album it comes from, is far more mellow than the sounds I’d expected when I began digging into the group’s work.

Edited slightly during reposting June 27, 2011.

‘Where You Been So Long . . .’

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 6, 2008

I’d seen the record jacket before: A painting of a raccoon sitting contentedly on a stump, front paws holding a walking stick. He wore a fuchsia waistcoat with a striped cravat, and a top hat rested jauntily on his knee. At his feet dozed a hound dog.

As it always had, the jacket caught my attention. (As opposed to the version shown here, the original record jacket had no writing on it, making it much more enigmatic; I could not, sadly, find a good image of that version.) I’m not sure where I was. It might have been Axis, the leather goods and music store in downtown St. Cloud. But wherever I was on that Sunday in March 1973, I knew it was time to buy the record.

In an era known for its extraordinary cover art, the jacket to J. J Cale’s first album, 1971’s Naturally, remains unique, as does Cale’s music, a generally mellow groove of country, blues and folk that slides out of the speakers. It’s an approach that Cale follows to this day, an approach that’s perhaps not worn as well over time as one would like; it can sound repetitious. But in a time when excess volume was a strategy used by many, the self-aware country mellowness of Cale’s first album was a quiet relief and pleasure.

I’d heard some of the album before, of course. A single, “Crazy Mama,” had reached No. 22 on the charts a year earlier, in March 1972. And I’d heard Cale’s slow and bluesy take on “After Midnight” during the hours I’d spent at St. Cloud State’s student radio station. So when I saw Naturally in the used record rack on that Sunday, I took it home. And, as I expected, when I played the entire album, I loved it.

In the years since, Naturally has been one of the albums I’ve frequently turned to when I’ve needed to slow down and shed some of the urgency of life. (There are other albums and artists that do that for me, as well, of course: A few of those artists are Shawn Phillips and Richie Havens, bluegrass and folk singer Kate MacKenzie, alt-country’s Tift Merritt and Ollabelle, a group whose influences wander all over the map; one of its lead singers is Amy Helm, daughter of Levon Helm of The Band.)

So when Cale’s “Crazy Mama” popped up at random on the RealPlayer the other day, I sat back from whatever I was doing and let the music flow through me. As I did, I wondered – as I often do – about cover versions.

It turns out that there are only a few, some of them surprising. Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton included the song on his rootsy 1993 album, Renegade Gentleman. Hurricane Sam, Mac Gayden and the Goshorn Brothers, about all of whom I know very little, have also recorded it. Redbone and Johnny Rivers covered the song in the 1970s, and in 1996, Billy Ray Cyrus included it on his Trail of Tears album.

“Crazy Mama” also showed up in a version by the late Richard Manuel on Whispering Pines: Live at the Gateway 1985, released in 2005. But the version I know best – and like the most – was on High On The Hog, the second album by the 1990s edition of The Band, with original members Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson joined by Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell.

(There is some disagreement about the release date for Naturally, with All-Music Guide listing it as 1971 and various Rolling Stone reference books listing it as 1972. There is no date on the record or its jacket. I’ve gone with 1971.)

J. J. Cale – “Crazy Mama” [1971]

The Band – “Crazy Mama” [1996]