Posts Tagged ‘Wizards From Kansas’

Wizards From Kansas, Indeed!

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 8, 2008

I can’t resist a little bragging this morning: A little more than three weeks ago, I dove into the Yahoo! fantasy sports contest for predicting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. I’d not followed college basketball’s regular season very much; in the past I’ve watched the University of Minnesota Gophers at times, but this season, the Big Ten conference set up its own cable network, and it wasn’t carried by our cable provider.

So when I looked at the sixty-four teams in the bracket, I had nothing more to go on than the seeding of the teams and their reputations and past performances.

I worked through all of the sixty-three games, and I wound up choosing Kansas to win it all. And the Jayhawks did just that! Oh, there were some anxious moments during last evening’s championship game. In fact, with Memphis leading by nine points with just more than two minutes remaining, I thought the game was decided. From there, the comeback was remarkable, and the Jayhawks eventually won in overtime.

At Yahoo!, I looked at the impact my correct prediction had on my rankings. The competition is based on a point system, with correct predictions in later rounds of the tournament earning more points than do those in earlier rounds, and a correct choice in the title game earning, as would be expected, the most points. Going into the championship game, my performance to that time had me ranked in the eighty-ninth percentile; in other words, I was doing better than eighty-nine percent of the people who’d entered the contest.

Only fourteen percent or so of the entrants in the contest had picked Kansas to win the tournament, and getting the outcome of the title game correct moved me up to the ninety-sixth percentile. I’m pretty surprised at my success. But the truly mind-boggling thing is the number of entrants: By choosing the final game correctly, I moved up 152,422 places for a final ranking of 86,389th in the contest. And I did better than ninety-six percent of the people in the contest. From there, some simple math tells me that there were about 2.16 million people entered in the Yahoo! contest.

Having done that, and knowing I would brag just a little bit here today, I began to wonder how in the world I was going to tie that stuff into music, especially into a cover song, as it is Tuesday. A search for the word “victory” among the mp3s brought up one of the versions of the Soviet National Anthem, an album by the late 1960s/early 1970s group People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus, a song by the Byrds, “Paths of Victory,” and a track from Hamilton Camp’s 1964 album, also entitled Paths of Victory.

So I searched, without much hope, for “Kansas.” The search returned a lot of versions of the song “Kansas City,” some 1930s work by Kansas Joe McCoy, fight songs for the universities of Kansas, Kansas State and Arkansas, and a 1968 (I think) single by the International Kansas City Playboys.

It also brought up the self-titled 1970 album by the group the Wizards From Kansas, which developed in the late 1960s in the areas of Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas and its Jayhawks. According to All-Music Guide, the group was first called Pig Newton, and then Pig Newton and the Wizards From Kansas. Toward the end of 1969, the band signed with Mercury Records and the label asked the group to drop the Pig Newton portion of the name.

So in the summer of 1970, AMG says, the Wizards From Kansas recorded their only album in San Francisco. The band broke up soon after that, however, leaving Mercury with an album but no band. Understandably, the label did little in the way of promotion, and the record went nowhere. In 1993, the Afterglow label released the album on CD.

I looked at the track list for that one album by the Wizards From Kansas. And the opening song was a cover of the 1960s folk song “High Flying Bird” (sometimes listed as “High Flyin’ Bird”). Written by Billy Edd Wheeler, the song was first recorded – I think – in 1964, by singer Judy Henske for her album of the same name and by a group called the Au Go-Go Singers for their only album, They Call Us Au Go-Go Singers. (The Au Go-Go Singers would hardly merit a footnote, I’d guess, were it not for the fact that two of its members were Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, soon to be members of the Buffalo Springfield and go on from there.)

(If I am incorrect in thinking that those versions were the first recorded of “High Flying Bird,” please let me know.)

Others who’ve recorded Wheeler’s song over the years include Richie Havens, 1960s folk singer Carolyn Hester, the Jefferson Airplane in its pre-Grace Slick days, the psychedelic groups H.P. Lovecraft and the Ill Wind, the New Christy Minstrels, Gram Parsons, the We Five, a 1970s group called the Villagers, and, on its third album, a group called Zephyr, remembered chiefly because guitarist Tommy Bolin was a member for the group’s first two albums.

I’ve heard about half of those. Havens, as always, does a fine job, as does Henske (though a lot of folks like Henske’s work far more than I do; I find her melodramatic at times). The Jefferson Airplane version is all right, and the Lovecraft is suitably acid-washed. The best of the bunch might be the 1972 version by Zephyr, with a great jazzy vocal by Candy Givens.

But, in honor of the Kansas Jayhawks, here’s the version by the Wizards From Kansas, the opening track to the group’s only album.

Wizards From Kansas – “High Flying Bird” [1970]

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

Saturday Single No. 224

February 5, 2011

Off we go on a six-tune random journey for a quiet Saturday morning!

First up comes a performance from Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour. With Scarlet Rivera’s sinuous violin line wandering in and out, Dylan declaims the tale of “One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below),” originally found on that year’s Desire album. It’s a rather foreboding sound to have as a start to a Saturday morning.

We move on to “No More,” a tune by the Cowboy Junkies from their 2005 effort, Early 21st Century Blues. A friend recently provided me with a few bits and pieces of the Cowboy Junkies canon, so I’m still absorbing this. But like much of the group’s work, “No More” is based on a languid guitar and Margo Timmons’ expressively weary vocals. This, too, is a bit foreboding, and I begin to wonder what kind of day I’m going to have.

Ah, sweet lunacy! The RealPlayer dumps me back into 1968 and finds an indelibly bad single: “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly. The story I’ve heard many times – and at the remove of forty-three years, does it matter it if it’s true? – is that Iron Butterfly’s lead singer was so chemically compromised during the session that he was unable to coherently sing “In the garden of Eden,” resulting in the unique and more memorable title for the song. The single – which went to No. 30 – is okay, nothing spectacular or memorable except as a marker of its time, and it’s over in the tidy time of 2:55, as opposed to the album track, which, of course, noodles along for more than seventeen undistinguished minutes.

Stop Number Four brings us another languid piece, this one courtesy of the San Francisco group, It’s A Beautiful Day. “Time,” from the 1973 album It’s A Beautiful Day…Today, is pleasant, but its main lyric, “Time . . . takes a long time to know,” somehow doesn’t scan very well. Still, there’s some nice instrumental work here – especially by Fred Webb on piano – and the track is a nice stop along the way.

Talk about foreboding! Our fifth tune this morning is Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues,” recorded on a November Friday in 1936 in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas. The legend of Johnson selling his soul to the devil at that crossroads is deeply entrenched in our culture, and the lyrics of what is likely his most famous song do tell the tale of one who is troubled: “I believe to my soul now, po’ Bob is sinkin’ down.” As we listen, though, it’s good to keep two things in mind: First, if there were a blues singer named Johnson who bartered his soul, it was most likely Tommy Johnson of “Canned Heat Blues” fame, and second, there were more imminent reasons than Satan for a young black man to be worried about being alone after sundown at an isolated southern crossroads in 1936. Whatever the truth behind the fear, the recording is still good listening almost seventy-five years after its genesis.

And our last stop this morning comes from the only album recorded by The Wizards From Kansas, their self-titled album from 1970. The group is described by All-Music Guide as an “obscure country-psych rock group,” and that’s probably accurate enough.  I once featured their excellent cover of Judy Henske’s “High Flying Bird,” and if today’s offering from the group isn’t quite on that level, it’s still pretty good, if you like things that sound very clearly like 1970. I do, of course, and so the brief “Country Dawn” is a nice bit of listening this morning, and it’s this week’s Saturday Single.