Posts Tagged ‘Wilson Pickett’

Birth Of A Sports Fan

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 11, 2009

I mentioned the other day my abiding love of sports. As strong as that affection is, it took a while to develop. While I’d enjoyed watching St. Cloud State football when I was quite young – nine or ten years old – I hadn’t had any great passion for sports at the time. We went as a family to St. Cloud State basketball games – the Huskies had a very good small college team for most of the 1960s – and went occasionally across town to see the local minor league baseball team, the St. Cloud Rox. (And given the history of granite quarrying in the St. Cloud area, that has to be one of the great team nicknames of all time!) I enjoyed all of it, but it wasn’t a focal point of my life.

I’ve never figured out why, but that changed in September 1967. One of the reflections of that change, of my new-found interest in sports and competition, was my request – granted rapidly – to subscribe to Sports Illustrated. The first edition I got showed Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, as the Cardinals were facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The writing was crisp and clear, the photos were remarkable, and the magazine covered a wide variety of sports, including some things that I’d never considered as sport: Dog shows, chess, yachting. I absorbed it all, and it fueled the metamorphosis in me from casual fan to informed fan.

Why write about that metamorphosis today? Because of a confluence of events and anniversaries.

A man named Earsell Mackbee died Monday in Vallejo, California, ten days after being transferred there on a medical plane from a hospital in Minneapolis. Vallejo was where Mackbee grew up, and gravely ill as he was, he wanted to die at home. He got his wish, through the help of friends and the help of his former colleagues in the National Football League.

Mackbee was a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings for five years, from 1965 through 1969. As I was learning about pro football in the fall of 1967 – through Sports Illustrated and through the Minneapolis and St. Cloud evening papers – Mackbee’s name was one that I recognized. Most likely because it was a different name – I knew no kids named Earsell – and also, I would guess, because he played a position that occasionally put him in the spotlight, whether for a lapse that resulted in a big play for the opponent or for a good play that benefitted the Vikings. He wasn’t an anonymous lineman, and one heard his name relatively frequently while watching the Vikings on television.

So Mackbee’s name – he wore jersey No. 46, I think – was one that I knew on a chilly Sunday in November 1967 – forty-two years ago tomorrow – when my dad and I set out from St. Cloud to go see the Vikings play the Detroit Lions. The tickets were ridiculously cheap by today’s standard: Five dollars each. (It’s good to keep inflation in mind, though. An online calculator tells me that what cost five dollars in 1967 would now cost almost thirty-two dollars.) And Dad and I settled into our seats in the front row of the second deck.

The Vikings and the Lions tied that afternoon, 10-10. The Vikings’ only touchdown came when Earsell Mackbee picked up a fumble and returned it fifty-five yards. It was one of two touchdowns he scored during his NFL career.

That game against the Lions and Mackbee’s touchdown have crossed my mind occasionally over the past forty-two years, but the memories came back with a rush two weeks ago, when I saw in the Minneapolis newspaper the news story about Mackbee being flown to California to die. There was a twinge of sorrow, but even stronger – and I think Mackbee would have liked this – was a flash of memory, a vision of the purple-clad Earsell Mackbee carrying the ball into the end zone on a grey November day in 1967.

A Six-Pack from November 1967
“Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
“Stag-O-Lee” by Wilson Pickett
“Tell Mama” by Etta James
“Lady Bird” by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
“Like An Old Time Movie” by Scott McKenzie
“Desiree” by the Left Bank

“Incense & Peppermints,” as I’ve likely said here before, is one of those records that powerfully bring back a time and place: I’m in the gym at South Junior High in St. Cloud during the last few minutes of the lunch period, and the rest of the guys and I are watching the girls dance to the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I imagine I’ve posted the song before, too, but it’s such a good single, at least to these ears, that I can’t help myself. The record peaked at No. 1.

The Wilson Pickett record is one of multiple versions of a song that’s been sliding around America for more than a hundred years, titled as “Stagger Lee,” “Stag-O-Lee,” “Stacker Lee” and more. (The two earliest versions I have were recorded in 1927: “Billy Lyons & Stack O’Lee” by Furry Lewis and “Stackalee” by Frank Hutchinson.) Pickett’s version, which went to No. 22, is pretty good, but it’s difficult for any R&B performer to top the 1959 version by Lloyd Price. (There seems to be some confusion about the exact title of Pickett’s recording: the Billboard chart and All-Music Guide have the title as “Stagger Lee,” while Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has it as “Stag-O-Lee.” I’ve gone with Whitburn.

Etta James’ “Tell Mama” came out of sessions that took place in Muscle Shoals in 1967 and 1968. Those sessions provided James with her last two Top 40 hits: “Tell Mama” went to No. 23, and the Otis Redding-penned “Security” went to No. 35 in the spring of 1968. “Tell Mama” is a hard-hitting piece of Southern soul, and the entire Tell Mama album is worth a listen or two. (The album was released a few years ago in a remastered version with ten additional tracks from the sessions.)

“Lady Bird” is one of those odd and evocative singles that Lee Hazelwood wrote and produced for Nancy Sinatra, sometimes – as in this case – singing on the record as well. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear one of those Hazelwood-produced records, it’s like being for a few moments in a mildly alternate universe: Things are just a little off-kilter but they still seem to all somehow make sense. It’s an interesting place to be for a short time. The record went to No. 20.

When a singer’s previous record was “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” what the heck do you do for a follow-up? In the case of Scott McKenzie, you go back into the studio with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and record another one of Phillips’ songs. “Like An Old Time Movie” was the result, and it’s not a bad single. It’s got a decent lyric although McKenzie oversings it at points. It got to No. 24, and, as McKenzie’s second hit, it’s the only thing keeping him from being a One-Hit Wonder, as he never got into the Top 40 again.

“Desiree” was another attempt by the Left Bank to replicate the success of the group’s 1966 hit, “Walk Away Renee.” It’s not bad, but the vocals sound thin at times, especially given the busy backing they have to contend with. The record was newly listed in the November 11, 1967, Billboard as one of the songs bubbling under the Hot 100. By the next week, it was gone.

(I think these are all the single versions and I’ve tagged them as such, but I’m frankly not sure: Some of these might be album tracks. Whichever they are, the single versions were all in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending November 11, 1967.)

At The Ballpark Long Ago

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 3, 2009

I went to a baseball game forty years ago today. How do I know?

Because I saw something that day at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium that’s been etched in my memory ever since.

It was a Sunday, and I went to the ball game through a trip sponsored by St. Cloud State. I was fifteen, and my folks – Dad, of course, taught at the college – paid my way and sent me off on the bus to the Cities. It wasn’t the first Minnesota Twins game I’d gone to, but I hadn’t been to many of them. And I’d never gone to one essentially unsupervised. Yeah, there were adults on the bus, but none of them were going to keep track of me. I was basically on my own, and that made me feel pretty good.

And the game promised to be something special, as well. The Twins were playing the Baltimore Orioles, and both teams were in first place as the last two months of the season got underway. That season, 1969, was the first year that the two major leagues were split into divisions, with the division winners set to face each other in playoffs after the regular season. So the series between the Twins and the Orioles was a preview of a likely post-season series.

There was an added attraction: The Orioles’ starting pitcher that Sunday, Dave McNally, had won fifteen games without a loss that season. If he won that Sunday’s game, he’d set a new American League record for consecutive victories at the start of a season. (He was tied at 15-0 with Johnny Allen, who’d pitched for Cleveland in 1937.)

In addition, by winning his sixteenth game in a row, McNally would tie an American League record, set by Walter Johnson in 1912 and tied by Smokey Joe Wood later that same season, as well as by Lefty Grove in 1931 and by Schoolboy Rowe in 1934. (The streaks by Johnson, Wood, Grove and Rowe had come after they’d lost games in those seasons.)

So McNally was trying to become the first American League pitcher to ever have a record of 16-0. (He’d then set his sights on Rube Marquard of the National League Giants, who in 1912 won his first nineteen decisions.)

I wasn’t yet an avid baseball fan, but I was learning. I knew as we drove from St. Cloud that morning about McNally and his chance for history. I also knew that the Twins and the Orioles were two very good baseball teams. A look at the box score from that day’s game reveals the name of four members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew of the Twins and Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles. (There are also some names in the box score of at least two Twins who also deserve to be in the Hall: Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. Other Orioles? Probably not.)

[Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022. Note added May 13, 2022.]

I had a good seat, about fifteen rows above the third-base dugout, the Orioles’ dugout. And it was a tight game, as might have been expected. As the Twins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, they trailed 1-0, and McNally had given up just four hits. But in that bottom of the seventh inning, the Twins managed two hits, and then a walk loaded the bases. Rich Reese came to the plate, pinch-hitting for Twins pitcher Kaat. I don’t remember how many pitches McNally threw to Reese, but the last one was decisive: Reese launched the ball over the right-field fence for a grand-slam home run. The Twins had a 4-1 lead, and McNally’s first loss was in sight.

McNally stayed in the game, which I find odd, both in memory and in baseball strategy. (I’m referring as I write this to a box score available at Baseball-Reference.com, an invaluable site, and I find that some details of the game have become fuzzy for me. But my main point, which I’ll actually address in a bit, remains clear.) In the top of the eighth inning, the Orioles closed the gap to 4-2, and McNally went back to the mound to pitch to the Twins in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Twins scored another run, and that was when Orioles manager Earl Weaver came on the field to take McNally out of the game.

The stadium was noisy as the Twins took that 5-2 lead and as Weaver came out of the third-base dugout, right in front of me. The noise lessened a bit as Weaver walked to the mound and took the baseball from McNally. And as McNally headed toward the dugout, his head down and his perfect season gone, two remarkable things happened:

First, the Minnesota fans – more than forty thousand were there that Sunday – stood and applauded. I’ve since learned, of course, that most sports fans in most cities acknowledge historic performances by opposing players, but this was the first time I’d seen that happen, and it made an impression on me. But that was only the first remarkable thing.

McNally crossed the third-base line as the crowd applauded him. He raised his head, and – in a gesture that’s remained vivid in my memory for forty years – took off his cap and tipped it to the fans in the stadium. If there were ever an object lesson in sportsmanship and grace, it came in that moment from Dave McNally.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, August 9, 1969)
“My Pledge of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group, Wand 11200 [No. 16]
“Choice of Colors” by the Impressions, Curtom 1943 [No. 24]
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen, Capitol 2482 [No. 44]
“Muddy River” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial 6638 [No. 45]
“Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2648 [No. 59]
“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” the Honey Cone, Hot Wax 6901 [No. 62]

Joe Jeffrey, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was from Buffalo, New York. There’s a bit more information at All-Music Guide, which notes that the singer, who was born Joe Stafford but changed his name (evidently to avoid confusion with Jo Stafford, even though Jo Stafford sang pop and was female) was a regular in clubs in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. “My Pledge of Love” was the only one of Jeffrey’s four singles on Wand to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 14.

As the late 1960s rolled on, Curtis Mayfield of the Impressions was becoming more and more explicit in his songwriting about the racial divide in the United States. “Choice of Colors” may have been the furthest extension of that progression. Listening to it today, I find it remarkable that the song did as well as it did, peaking at No. 21 on the pop chart and reaching No. 1 on the R&B chart. The record is a remarkably frank piece of work.

“Hurt So Bad” was the Lettermen’s remake of the 1965 hit by Little Anthony & the Imperials, which went to No. 10. The Lettermen’s version was more lightweight than Little Anthony’s; it peaked at No. 12 as it floated from radio speakers during the late summer and early autumn of 1969, speaking directly to the life and heart of at least one young listener in the Midwest. It was the Lettermen’s final Top 40 hit.

Johnny Rivers’ “Muddy River” was pulled from his remarkable album Slim Slo Slider, and it’s surprising to me that it didn’t do better than it did. Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” a single that’s high on my all-time list, had gone to No. 14 as 1967 turned into 1968, and “Muddy River,” while not quite of that quality, was a good single. But “Muddy River” sat at No. 45 for one more week and then jumped to No. 41 for a week before falling back down the chart. Rivers wouldn’t hit the Top 40 again until 1972 with “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu,” which went to No. 6.

Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Joe” didn’t reach the Top 40, but it did prove once again that Pickett could to justice to pretty much any song. The record peaked at No. 59 on the pop chart, and went to No. 29 on the R&B chart. It’s also notable for the presence of Duane Allman on guitar. (If you listened to the mp3 before reading this, it’s likely you knew – or at least suspected – that already.)

“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” is one of the delightful confections with a groove that Honey Cone and the other members of the Invictus stable turned out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Formed by the one-time Motown team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Invictus and Hot Wax were also home to Freda Payne, Laura Lee, the Chairmen of the Board and others. “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” was, says Wikipedia, Honey Cone’s first single. It peaked at No. 62 on the pop chart and made it to No. 26 on the R&B chart. The group eventually had four Top 40 hits, including “Want Ads,” which went to No. 1 in 1971.

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

‘Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears . . .’

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 12, 2009

I wrote the other day about scanning the daily obituaries and on occasion seeing a name that spurs a memory or a thought. It happened again over the weekend while I was browsing news online.

I read in a news account that William Zantzinger, who had died at the age of sixty-nine, was buried Friday, January 10, in Maryland. And as I read, I heard in my head Bob Dylan’s flat early-Sixties voice:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

That’s the opening verse of Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” released in 1964 on The Times They Are A-Changin’. The song tells the 1963 tale of what happened when Carroll, a fifty-one-year-old African-American barmaid, died of a stroke a few hours after Zantzinger, who was twenty-four and white, stuck Carroll with his cane when she displeased him during a charity ball at Baltimore’s Emerson Hotel.

The Los Angeles Times has a good account of the events of that evening, of the trial for manslaughter that followed, and of the rest of Zantzinger’s life. (While writing the song, Dylan dropped the “t” from Zantzinger’s name, possibly for legal reasons.)*

“Hattie Carroll” is not one of Dylan’s songs I know well. I knew it well enough to recognize Zantzinger’s name and recall most of the first verse, but it’s not one I’ve dug into very deeply, not the way I’ve examined songs of his that came along later. Add to that the fact that – to me – The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the Dylan album that is stuck most in the time it was released, and one finds a song that has remained if not anonymous, then at least a little bit hidden.

But “Hattie Carroll” is worth a listen, especially when one considers that there’s probably not a better example of pure folk music – as defined by one very formal standard – in Dylan’s oeuvre. At a time when thousands of pieces of up-to-date information are available to us with flicks of our wrists and clicks of our fingers, it’s worth pondering for a moment that, not all that long ago, as these things are measured, significant or just fascinating events once were defined and remembered in large part through song.

And that’s what Dylan did when he wrote “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Acting as reporter and commentator, Dylan uses his song to tell us the news. One doesn’t have to work too hard to imagine how William Zantzinger felt about being immortalized in song; the Los Angeles Times piece I linked to earlier touches lightly on that. But I do wonder how Hattie Carroll would have felt about it.

I have three recordings of the song in my library: The original recording by Dylan from 1964; the version he performed during the tour of the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975, and a version released by Steve Howe, who is most likely best known for his work as a member of Yes and Asia. The track comes from Portraits of Bob Dylan, a 1999 collection of twelve Dylan tunes performed by Howe with a few other folks.

Howe’s version of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” – the place where we’ll start today’s otherwise random ten songs – has Howe on Spanish, electrical and steel guitars as well as on mandolin and keyboards. Geoff Downes is on keyboards as well, with Anna Palm on violin, Nathalie Manser on cello and Dean Dyson handling the vocal.

Ten (Almost) At Random, 1950-1999
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” by Steve Howe et al. from Portraits of Bob Dylan, 1999

“Big River” by Delbert McClinton from Second Wind, 1978

“How Can You Keep Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)” by Ry Cooder from Into the Purple Valley, 1971

“Shot of Rhythm & Blues” by Arthur Alexander, Dot 16309, 1962

“I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” by the Groop from The Groop, 1969

“If You’ve Got A Daughter” by Sailcat from Motorcycle Mama, 1972

“Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2781, 1971

“Anything” by the Vejetables, Autumn 15, 1965

“Glad I Knew You Well” by Livingston Taylor from Life Is Good, 1988

“I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” by the Glass Bottle, Avco Embassy 4575, 1971

A few notes:

Into the Purple Valley was Ry Cooder’s second solo album, and it settles neatly into a tour of the music of the Dust Bowl era, with Cooder showing his well documented artistry on almost any stringed instrument. In addition, he finds the centers of songs that were more than thirty years old at the time of recording, songs of dislocation, struggle and fear that might not seem so out of place in these disquieting times of our own.

Arthur Alexander was a country-soul artist from Alabama who left behind a fairly substantial collection of singles and LPs recorded between 1960 and his death in 1993. The most frequent mention of his name these days, though, is likely for his recording the original version of “Anna,” which the Beatles covered in their early years. (The Beatles’ cover version was released on an 1964 EP in Britain; in the U.S., it was originally released on Vee Jay’s Introducing the Beatles in 1963 and later on the 1965 Capitol LP release, The Early Beatles.)

There are evidently two groups that were called The Groop in the 1960s. This one is the Los Angeles-based group, not the earlier assembly from Australia that went to England. The L.A.-based Groop is credited with recording two songs that were included in the soundtrack to the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy as well as recording one album. “I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” comes from that 1969 self-titled effort. I looked for Curt Boettcher’s name on the credits; it’s not there, but whoever produced the record listened to a lot of Boettcher’s work, I think. The track offered here sounds a lot like the Association.

The Wilson Pickett recording is one of those that I got in the Philadelphia box set I mentioned the other day. Pulled from the LP Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia, the single went to No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 17 on the pop chart.

The Vejetables’ single comes from the other box set I mentioned the other day, the one that focuses on the music of the San Francisco area from 1965 to 1970. It’s relatively trippy folk rock.

The Glass Bottle’s single is a one-hit wonder by a group from New Jersey, and a wondrous one at that. A sweet artifact from my first autumn in college, the song – produced, oddly enough, by novelty artist Dickie Goodman – went to No. 36 during a three-week stay in the Top 40. I have a sense that the record – as familiar as it is to me – did better than that in Minnesota.

*The Los Angeles Times piece about Zantzinger has since been deleted. Note added November 16, 2011.

Another Walk Through The Junkyard

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 18, 2008

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning (it will pass), and I am behind on household chores, so I’m not really going to write anything. But I thought I’d take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard (pre-2000) and see what we find. I’ll sort the songs by running time, and then start with the best song I see at about the midpoint of the collection, and we’ll go random from there.

“I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters from Fathers & Sons, 1969

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles from Beatles For Sale, 1964

“Not My Way Home” by Nanci Griffith from The Dust Bowl Symphony, 1999

“I’m Her Daddy” by Bill Withers from Just As I Am, 1971

“Feels Like” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

“Little Girl” by Billy Preston from Encouraging Words, 1970

“Quiet About It” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester, 1970

“The Woo Woo Train” by the Valentines, Rama single 196, 1956

“The Spa” by John Barry from the soundtrack to Thunderball, 1965

“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2430, 1967

“Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Bell single 705, 1968

“High, Low and In Between” by Townes Van Zandt from High, Low and In Between, 1972

“If (I Could Be With You)” by Lavelle White, Duke single 198, 1958

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!, 1965

“The River” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free, 1972

A few notes:

Fathers & Sons was a Chess Records project that brought together Muddy Waters and piano player Otis Spann with three members of the Butterfield Blues Band: leader Paul Butterfield, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Sam Lay. Also sitting was Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MGs, while drummer Buddy Miles played on one of the live tracks that made up the final album. Such mergings of talent and generations don’t always work out, of course, which makes Fathers & Sons that much more of a treasure. It’s one of the great albums of Waters’ long career, and a milestone for the other musicians, as well.

“I’ll Follow the Sun” is listed here as being from Beatles For Sale, and that is where it’s found these days in the CD racks. But I’ll always hear it as part of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol created during the group’s early years by trimming a few songs off a British release and adding some singles that weren’t on albums in the U.K.

The Dust Bowl Symphony was Nanci Griffith’s attempt to recast some of her more memorable songs as a suite, with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t always work, and most of the songs on the album are likely better heard in their original settings. (“Not My Way Home” was originally released on 1997’s Blues Roses From the Moons.) One track that works, and is worth seeking out, is “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith recast as a duet with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

The Valentines were one of those groups that sprang up on street corners all through New York City during the mid-1950s. According to Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, “The Woo Woo Train” was composed and arranged by the group in the recording studio’s men’s room the morning of the recording session. I think it’s a great track; I especially love the raucous sax solo.

Come June 1, it will be forty years since “Angel of the Morning” entered the Top 40. It’s still a gorgeous song – written by Chip Taylor – and a great record, and it’s certainly one of the most enduring of all one-hit wonders.

The bluesy R&B grit of “If (I Could Be With You)” is, to my mind, of a kind with most of the recordings coming from Texas-based Duke records in the late 1950s. (The label was also the home of legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.) Lavelle got her first success with the self-penned “If,” which she recorded while she was in her late 20s, if the date of 1958 is accurate (and it seems to be). White is still recording, and since 1994, has released three albums, two of them on the Antone’s label. The most recent of those is 2003’s Into the Mystic.

Born To Cover Steppenwolf

April 28, 2011

Originally posted July 24, 2007

It’s an interesting list, with the first real recognizable name being that of Blue Öyster Cult. Further down the alphabetical listing, we find the Countdown Singers and Crowded House, the Cult, Doro and a group named Ebba Grön. There’s John Kay, which makes some sense. There are also Kim Fowley, Jeff the Drunk, the Leningrad Cowboys and the Enoch Light Singers.

On down the list we go. Raven, Slade and Elvis Schoenberg. Suicide Commanders, Joe Lynn Turner and Twisted Sister. Leslie West and Link Wray. The Ventures. Along the way, we passed by Steppenwolf, Mars Bonfire and Wilson Pickett.

It’s a fascinating list. Just think about it for a second. What in the name of Little Richard would bring those names together on a list?

A while back – when I was writing about Tom Jans’ song “Loving Arms” – I made a reference to cover versions that bring about the question “Who in the world though that was a good idea?” One could ask the same question about some of the names on the list I was looking at this morning. It’s a list from All-Music Guide of performers who have recorded “Born To Be Wild,” the song Steppenwolf took to No. 2 in 1968.

Look back at that list. I don’t know who Ebba Grön is, or Joe Lynn Turner, for that matter, so let’s dig a little: Turner was in Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow and has carved out a decent hard rock career, including a couple of albums of cover songs. And Ebba Grön is a Swedish punk band that included the song on a live album. Fair enough.

Still, some of those names in connection with “Born To Be Wild” give me the willies. I mean, the Enoch Light Singers? The same Enoch Light album, from 1968, has the singers covering the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” and “Light My Fire” as well as Gary Puckett’s “Lady Willpower.” Those aren’t quite as bizarre as “Born To Be Wild,” but still, there’s some cognitive dissonance there. It’s almost as surreal as the Ray Conniff Singers of that era recording “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Or maybe Pat Boone recording “Smoke On The Water.” (Oh. Never mind, then.)

Some of the names belong there. John Kay was the lead singer for Steppenwolf, so I guess he’s got the right to re-record the tune whenever he wants, even if he’s unlikely to touch the quality of the original. And the wonderfully named Mars Bonfire – who began life as Dennis Edmonton – wrote the song, so he’s cool.

But the least likely name on that list – with the exception of the Enoch Light Singers – is probably Wilson Pickett. Now, Pickett was both prolific and adventurous. He recorded a lot and was willing to try a lot of different things. But “Born To Be Wild”? That seems like a real stretch.

On the other hand, Pickett could stretch. He recorded the Steppenwolf song during the same sessions at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals that found him recording the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” According to Tony Glover’s account in the booklet that accompanied the album Duane Allman: An Anthology, Allman himself talked Pickett into recording “Hey Jude” as the title track for his next album. And despite Pickett’s reluctance, with the help of Allman and the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section and horns, the singer did a bang-up job on the Beatles’ tune.

His work on “Born To Be Wild,” didn’t quite reach the same level. I mean, it’s a good track: Pickett delivers the song with his typical gusto, and the backing he gets is good. It’s always dangerous, however, for a singer to attempt a song that’s achieved anthemic status. It’s rarely possible for such a cover to overcome the inevitable comparisons. And during those sessions in 1968, I don’t think Pickett got to the heart of the Steppenwolf song the way he did with “Hey Jude.” Still, it’s worth a listen.

Wilson Pickett – Born To Be Wild (1969)

Note: When I unexpectedly found a CD of Pickett’s out-of-print Hey Jude album online last month, I had planned to share the entire album here. But between the time I ordered the CD and the time it arrived, I learned that the CD is once again in print, which is good news. Look for it at Amazon or your favorite online retailer.

A Baker’s Dozen On Atlantic

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2007

I had an album ripped and ready to go this morning, but as I was researching it, I learned that it is no longer out of print; it’s been re-released on CD. That’s a boundary I try to keep, not posting entire albums that are in print, so I ditched the rip I had planned.

Then I sat there and looked at the pile of albums I have in my “To Rip” pile. I sneezed a few times, as there is some kind of pollen roaming around right now that does not like me. I looked at my list of household chores waiting for me. And I decided I’d move my Baker’s Dozen from Wednesday to today and let Wednesday worry about itself when we get there.

So, without any back story or anything else, here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while: A random Baker’s Dozen of singles on the Atlantic label. If I had more energy, I’d write about the Atlantic label, but I really don’t think I need to go into detail about the influence and importance of the label to American popular music. If you’re unfamiliar with the label and its history, there are any number of useful anthologies available with pretty good liner notes. (A note: In my filing system, if I have an entire album in the RealPlayer, then all songs from that album are listed under the album name, even those that were released as singles. So some favorites won’t have a chance to pop up.)

So let’s see what we get:

“It Tears Me Up” by Percy Sledge, Atlantic 2358, 1966

“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2909, 1972

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John, Atlantic 2846, 1972

“Since I Met You, Baby” by Ivory Joe Hunter, Atlantic 1111, 1956

“Whatcha Gonna Do” by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, Atlantic 1055, 1955

“I Don’t Care Anymore” by Phil Collins, Atlantic 89877, 1983

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris, Atlantic 3248, 1975

“Too Weak To Fight” by Clarence Carter, Atlantic 2569, 1969

“You’ll Never Change” by Bettye LaVette, Atlantic 2198, 1962

“Drown In My Own Tears” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 1085, 1956

“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals, Atlantic 2493, 1968

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Atlantic 3372, 1977

“See Saw” by Aretha Frankilin, Atlantic 2574, 1968

A few notes on the songs:

One surprise here is Wilson Pickett’s version of “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” the Randy Newman tune that Three Dog Night took to No. 1 in 1970, two years before Pickett recorded it. It seems an odd choice for Pickett, but keep in mind that he also recorded “Hey Jude” not long after the Beatles released it and nailed it.

Robert John’s version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” pales when compared to the Tokens’ 1961 version, which was itself a revision of a recording by the early folk group the Weavers. The Weavers, in turn, had gotten the song from a recording by African Artist Miriam Makeba. The song’s origins, according to Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul, date to the 1930s, and the chain from Makeba to Robert John is a modern version of the way folk music used to evolve from region to region and from era to era.

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” the Major Harris tune with its racy-for-the-times cooing and moaning ran here a while back in a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. But it’s too much fun not to run it again.

I won’t say it was the first time I ever heard the recording, but the first time I really paid any attention to Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You, Baby” was when I heard it in the soundtrack to the 1987 movie The Big Town. Set in a mythical late 1950s, the movie – starring Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – is a noir-ish tale of a young gambler come to the big city with all its perils. The soundtrack, which featured Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, the Drifters, Little Willie John and a few others Fifties artists, was superb.

ABBA’s music is often derided as “just pop.” Well, it may be pop, but it’s great pop, and there are few moments in 1970s music as recognizable as the gorgeous piano glissando that kicks off “Dancing Queen”!

A Baker’s Dozen From 1969

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 18, 2007

As I began to write this morning, I started the file with the date, as I always do, and as I typed “April 18,” I was sorely tempted to revisit 1975 for this week’s Baker’s Dozen.

Why? Because of this:

“Listen my children and you shall hear
“Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
“Hardly a man is now alive
“Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Of course, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was referring to a different “Seventy-five” – 1775 – when he wrote “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” And because I ran a Baker’s Dozen from 1975 just a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d hit a few other years before I begin repeating, as I am sure I will do at some point. So with the Texas Gal already off to work before providing any guidance, I’m going to choose 1969 and start with one of my favorite recordings of all time. 

There was an old hotel not far from the Mississippi River in downtown St. Cloud when I was growing up, the Grand Central. Historical rumor had it that it had been a stopping place for numerous famous people over the years, including Buffalo Bill Cody (a rumor that I believe was verified by a guest register discovered during the building’s demolition). It may have been a truly grand establishment at one time, but by my first year of college, it was pretty much a flophouse, and its first floor retail spaces were filled with small and generally short-lived shops that sold used records, posters, and equipment and accessories for pharmaceutical recreation.

It was in one of those shops in the spring of 1972, just a few months before the hotel came down and the lot was paved over for a lot for city bus service, that I pawed through a stack of records and found Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 album, in decent shape for a reasonable price. I grabbed it and went off to one of the college dorms, where I dropped in on some friends to share my find.

It’s a good record, with several songs that have become Cocker standards: “Delta Lady,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Dear Landlord” come quickly to mind. But the best cut on the album – I thought on first hearing and still think today, more than thirty years later – is Cocker’s take on John Sebastian’s “Darling, Be Home Soon.” With a feel of gospel-powered celebration, Cocker gives the song a joy that neither Sebastian nor anyone else has ever found in it. It thrilled me, even though I have to confess that at 18, I did not grasp the entire meaning of “the great relief of having you to talk to.”

I do now, and the song remains a favorite of mine and is the starting point for this random Baker’s Dozen from 1969:

“Darling, Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!

“Wild Child” by the Doors from The Soft Parade

“Songs To Aging Children Come” by Joni Mitchell from Clouds

“That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)” by Dusty Springfield, Atlantic single 2637

“Will You Be Staying After Sunday” by the Peppermint Rainbow, Decca single 32410

“Gentle On My Mind” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis

“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4187

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown . . . Home Grown

“Goodbye” by Frank Sinatra from Watertown

“I’m Easy” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs

 “Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2648

“What Are You Trying To Do” by Mother Earth from Make A Joyful Noise

“Dirty Old Man” by Delaney & Bonnie from Accept No Substitutes

I chuckled when the Doors’ “Wild Child” popped up right after “Darling, Be Home Soon.” It’s quite likely that when I took my Joe Cocker album to the dorm that long-ago Friday evening, “Wild Child” – or at least The Soft Parade – was playing on the stereo in my friend’s room; it was one of his favorite albums, and that specific song was to some extent an anthem for our freshman year.

Despite that, I also cringed a little at “Wild Child.” For some time, I’ve believed that the Doors were the most over-rated of all the well-known bands of their time, and much of The Soft Parade, in particular, is difficult to listen to with much pleasure these days.

There are two versions I like of Joni Mitchell’s “Songs to Aging Children Come” – this one, and the one by Tigger Outlaw in the 1969 film Alice’s Restaurant. Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing. Check it out if you get the chance.

The Sinatra tune, “Goodbye,” is from Watertown, a song cycle that’s one of the more idiosyncratic recordings of Sinatra’s long career. The songs on Watertown came from Bob Gaudio – writer of many of the Four Seasons’ hits – and Jake Holmes, the singer-songwriter/folk-rocker who was also the composer of “Dazed & Confused,” which Led Zeppelin appropriated as its own work. The album is, as All-Music Guide notes, Sinatra’s “most explicit attempt at rock-oriented pop.” It’s also a rather depressing piece of work, as the mood throughout is one of unrelieved (and unrelievable) sadness.

Elvis Presley’s version of “Gentle On My Mind” comes from his sessions in Memphis in 1969, which were regarded at the time as some of the best work he’d done in years. That was likely true, but, to me, “Gentle On My Mind” was one of the lesser efforts from those sessions. The best-known songs from those sessions, of course, are the three hits: “In The Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Suspicious Minds.” For my part, the best performance from those sessions is the King’s take on “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.”

“I’m Easy,” the Boz Scaggs tune, comes from his self-titled solo debut, which was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Probably the best-known cut on the album is “Loan Me A Dime,” which features – as do a few other cuts – Duane Allman.

“Dirty Old Man” features the classic line-up behind Delaney and Bonnie: Leon Russell, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner, Rita Coolidge and a few others.