Posts Tagged ‘ZZ Top’

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.

The Seeds Of A Brand Loyalty

March 25, 2012

Originally posted April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1974, thirty-five years ago today, I was playing hooky in a big way. In fact, I was starting my second week of hooky from St. Cloud State’s classes in Fredericia, Denmark. Spring quarter had started Monday, March 25. Sunrise that day had found me in a youth hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland, looking out of the window at the Matterhorn. I knew it was the first day of class, but I also knew I had yet to travel through Switzerland and Austria to Vienna and I had yet to see Munich in what was then West Germany.

It wasn’t a tough choice. So a week later, on April 1, I was in Munich, standing in a square to watch the town hall tower’s ancient glockenspiel chime the hour. As I stood and waited for the top of the hour – ten o’clock, I believe – I saw one of my fellow St. Cloud State students, DJ, whom I’d not seen for nearly four weeks, since a raucous few days in Paris. He grinned and we caught up with each other as we waited. At ten o’clock, the bells in the tower chimed, and colorful carved figures danced and jousted.

The crowd thinned, and I turned to DJ. “So what are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“I’m heading to the Hofbräuhaus for lunch,” he said, “and then I’m heading back to Fredericia, but I’m going to visit a shoe factory along the way.”

A shoe factory?

He grinned and said he was heading for the world headquarters of adidas, the company whose shoes bore a distinctive three stripes.

I knew the shoes. I’d wanted a pair for years and, finally, for Christmas 1971, my folks gave me a pair: blue with the three stripes in white. I loved those shoes, and I wore them out. Then I bought another pair to bring with me to Denmark. I don’t think I was wearing them the day I ran into DJ, as I’d left Fredericia for spring break in early March, and it was still a bit chilly to wear the adidas shoes every day.

We went to the Hofbräuhaus, where we ate some baked liver loaf and each had a couple of beers. After we ate, we found an unattended door on the building’s lower level, and we each sneaked out with one of the Hofbräuhaus’ distinctive gray mugs, repeating an act of larceny committed by thousands of others over the years. From there, we went to the train station and headed to Nuremberg.

As we rode, DJ explained. The adidas company had its headquarters in a small town called Herzogenaurach. We’d have to take a train from Nuremberg to a city called Fürth, and there, we’d have to catch a train to a station called Erlangen-Bruck, near the smaller city of Erlangen. There, finally, we would catch a train that brought us to Herzogenaurach. Our goal, DJ said, was to get a tour of the factory and the company’s shoe museum.

As DJ had planned, our fourth train of the afternoon brought us into Herzogenaurach, but it was mid-afternoon by that time. “We might be too late,” he said, as we hurried down the street. I saw a sign in the street, like a traffic sign. One portion of the sign pointed to the right, and showed “adidas” and the familiar trefoil logo. The other portion pointed left, and read “PUMA” with the also familiar leaping cat. As we headed to the right, I asked DJ, “Puma and adidas?”

He nodded as we hurried, and between breaths, he told me that the companies had been started by feuding brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, in the years after World War II. Adolf had used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name to brand his shoes: adidas. Rudolf had chosen Puma as his brand name, and the headquarters for both brands were located in Herzogenaurach, a city that in 1974 had a population of around 15,000, maybe a little less.

We made our way through town to a group of buildings at the edge of town, with the most modern of them marked “adidas.” We went to that one, and at the door, DJ explained our mission. Eventually, the doorkeeper went away and brought back a man who was maybe in his forties, wearing a conservative coat and tie. He looked at the two of us, with our longish, untrimmed hair, and told us he was sorry, the factory was closed and it was too late to get a tour. He gave each of us his card and said that if we could come back early in the morning on a Thursday or a Friday . . .

Disappointed, DJ and I walked back into the center of the small town and went to the adidas factory outlet. He bought shoes and an athletic bag; I bought a t-shirt. And we headed back, via Erlangen-Bruck and Fürth, to Nuremberg, where we caught a train that would take us to Hamburg in northern West Germany. From there, it was only a few hours to Fredericia. We got home about mid-day on April 2, a week and a day late for class.

(We weren’t the only ones to be late for spring classes, nor were we the last ones back from spring break: Many of us had missed at least some class time that spring quarter, and a few others straggled in after DJ and I got back to Fredericia. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that our time in Denmark was St. Cloud State’s first attempt at a foreign study program, and although the administration had anticipated some absenteeism, our behavior at the beginning of the spring quarter was more widespread and blatant than expected. From then on, in all of St. Cloud State’s foreign study programs, an extended absence required a good reason. Those students without good reasons, I think, were sent back to the States. And I’m pretty sure that, “But I hadn’t been to Vienna yet!” wouldn’t have been a good enough reason.)

A couple of days later, I got a letter from a gal I’d met in Vienna who was studying in Poitiers, France, inviting me to visit for Easter, if my rail pass was still good. It was, and train schedules were good enough to allow me to get there, spend two days, and get back to Fredericia without missing any school.

In fact, I thought, as I looked at maps and train schedules, I could leave Wednesday afternoon and head south to Munich – where there was a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that I’d not seen while I was there – and then take a Thursday night train to Paris. I could still get into Poitiers on Friday, which is what my lady friend had suggested. I looked at my adidas shirt drying on the radiator and thought a little more.

And at 7:30 in the morning on April 11, a Thursday, I presented myself at the main building of the adidas shoe company. I gave the doorman the business card I’d gotten during my previous visit, and waited. The conservatively dressed fellow came to the door and did a double-take when he saw me. I reminded him that he’d essentially promised a tour if we came back early on a Thursday or a Friday. He nodded, smiling tightly, and escorted me into the building. He handed me off to a junior somebody, who took me around the factory and then through a small museum, where I saw – among other things – adidas shoes that had been used by Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali. I left the factory after about an hour, impressed with what I’d seen and carrying a bag of key chains and other trinkets, all marked “adidas.”

And this may be silly, but since that day, I’ve never worn a shirt or jacket or anything that displays the brand name of another shoe company. No Nike shirts or caps, no Puma, no New Balance, no Air Jordan. I’ve not always had sports shoes, but when I have, they’ve been adidas. I have several shirts with the adidas logo and none displaying any other shoe brand’s logo. I have a small collection of baseball caps, most of them displaying the logos of various athletic teams . . . and three with the adidas logo.

As I said, that brand loyalty might be kind of silly. I’m not an athlete, never really have been. But that loyalty satisfies something in me, and that’s all that matters.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 30, 1974)
“Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Motown 1286 (No. 40)
“On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, Asylum 11033 (No. 51)
“Star Baby” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0217 (No. 54)
“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 46007 (No. 64)
“Watching The River Run” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 46010 (No. 73)
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 (No. 97)

I don’t recall hearing any of these at the time. Readers might recall my mentioning the tape machine in the lounge of the youth hostel where I was living during the early months of 1974: We listened mostly to the Allman Brothers, the first Duane Allman anthology and Pink Floyd, with Graham Nash, the occasional slice of Bread and a few others being dropped in for variety. Radios were scarce at the hostel, and Top 40 was hard to come by.

Though I’m sure I’ve heard “Dancing Machine” before I ripped it from one of the Texas Gal’s CDs this week, I couldn’t tell you when. My tolerance for the Jackson 5 has been limited for years to “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” I don’t think “Dancing Machine” is quite up to the level of those, but it’s a pretty good, propulsive track, better than I thought it would be when I first chose it for this selection. The record went to No. 2 on the pop chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the last Jackson 5 record to climb so high on either chart.

When listeners dropped “On A Night Like This” on the turntable, they were hearing something that hadn’t been available on record before except on bootlegs: Bob Dylan in the recording studio with The Band. The single was the first track from Planet Waves, which surprisingly – given their long association – was the first album that found all five members of The Band in the studio with Dylan. (The facsinating Basement Tapes, showing what Dylan and the five members of The Band had been up to during Dylan’s recovery from a motorcycle accident, would come out in 1975.) A rollicking and grinning piece of Americana (long before, as I said the other day, that term was applied to popular music), the single nevertheless failed to reach the Top 40; by the end of March, it had been in the Hot 100 for six weeks and had peaked at No. 44. By April 6, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100.

For about two-and-a-half years, between early 1969 and the late summer of 1971, the Guess Who – a group out of Manitoba, Canada – had been a reliable hit-making machine, putting eleven singles into the Top 40, with five of them reaching the Top Ten. (The most successful of them, “American Woman,” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the spring of 1970.) In the spring of 1974, the Guess Who broke a three-year absence in the Top 40, as “Star Baby” – a catchy piece of radio pop – slid into the pop chart. As March ended, the record was on its way up, moving to No. 54 from No. 63. Three weeks later, “Star Baby” poked its head into the Top 40, sitting at No. 39 for two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. The Guess Who had two more hits in 1974 – “Clap For The Wolfman” went to No. 6 and “Dancin’ Fool” went to No. 28 – and then disappeared from the Top 40 for good.

From 1974 into the early 1980s, Chicago-based Earth, Wind & Fire released a series of catchy singles that laced R&B with funk and the occasional tender ballad. That brought the group – formed and led by drummer Maurice White – sixteen Top 40 hits, seven of which reached the Top Ten. One of those, “Shining Star” spent a week at No. 1 on the pop charts; seven of the group’s hits were No. 1 on the R&B chart. That string began with “Mighty Mighty” in 1974. During the week in question, “Mighty Mighty” was at No. 64 and was heading up the chart towards its peak of No. 29. All together, the song – a potent slice of radio R&B – spent fifteen weeks in the Hot 100.

It’s interesting that Loggins & Messina included “Watching The River Run” on their 1976 anthology, The Best of Friends, as the song got no further up the Hot 100 than No. 71 in a six-week run. But then, Loggins & Messina only had three Top 40 hits, which would make for a pretty skimpy anthology. And “Watching The River Run” is a good choice, maybe the quintessential Loggins & Messina track: melodic and mellow with a lyric that tells us that we’re all part of something sweet and good, something that will go one when we no longer do.

The growling, nearly incomprehensible lyrics of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” combined with the record’s Texas-style boogie, nearly got ZZ Top into the Top 40. “La Grange” crawled slowly up the chart after its March 30 debut, eventually reaching No. 41 in the last week of June 1974 and the falling out of the Hot 100 a month later after a nineteen-week run. Starting with “Tush” in the summer of 1975, ZZ Top would eventually have eight Top 40 hits, with two of them – “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” – reaching the Top Ten in the mid-1980s. But as good as any of those were, I don’t think they match “La Grange.’ A-how-how-how-how!

Note: For those interested in the history of adidas and Puma shoes and the feud between the Dassler brothers that led to the forming of two competing companies in one small German town, look into Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit. Even if you don’t wear sports apparel of any kind, it’s a fascinating look at influence the two companies had in starting the amazingly huge business of marketing sports gear and apparel.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983

May 6, 2011

Originally posted September 5, 2007

This is a busy week around here. The Texas Gal took the week off from work, and we’re investing a lot of our time in sorting through stuff, trying to make room.

Our apartment is not small, by any means, but we are both collectors, and the space available to expand collections – books for both of us, records and CDs for me and fabric and yarn for her (gathered not for its own sake but for use in quilting and crocheting) – becomes more limited as time slithers on.

So we spent yesterday going through closets and identifying things that we could live without. This morning we took a carload of stuff to the local Goodwill store. And we have the garage to go through yet, a back wall of boxes in which resides more surplus. The hope is to winnow the boxes on the back wall enough so that boxes currently in the apartment – filled with things we wish to keep but do not at the moment need – can be shifted to the garage.

That will leave us more room in the apartment, until we fill the created space with books, music and textiles. Eventually, I fear, we will have to either rent a storage unit somewhere nearby or make a breakthrough in physics that will allow us to store things in a fourth dimension, one that allows easy access for retrieval.

Luckily for me, mp3s take up very little real space, leaving it possible for me to spend a morning rummaging through the sounds of 1983. That was the year I left Monticello and its weekly newspaper and went to graduate school at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

It’s a very fine school (next year, it will celebrate one hundred years since its founding as the world’s first journalism school) and a challenging one. Drawing students to Columbia, Missouri, from all over the world for its graduate and undergraduate programs, it taught me at least as much out of the classrooms and labs as it did in them. During the eighteen months I spent in Columbia, I got to know students from all over the U.S. as well as from Germany, France, South Africa, the U.S.S.R. and China, to name just a few. After six years in a small Minnesota town – a good town, but a small town nevertheless – graduate school brought me into a much larger and more complex world.

I spent twenty hours a week working as a graduate assistant, helping edit the Columbia Missourian, a daily paper written by students at the journalism school and edited by faculty members. Classes were rigorous, but basically, beyond my work at the newspaper, graduate school boiled down to reading and writing, two of my core strengths. So I enjoyed it immensely, and I did well.

There was plenty of time for fun, too, of course: Intense discussions over beer and pizza at a place called Shakespeare’s. Beer and burgers and talk at the Old Heidelberg. Beer and talk and good music at the homes of any number of my fellow students, grad students and undergraduates alike. (The beer was generally dark and plentiful, though not particularly distinctive; I had not yet become too discerning or demanding about my brews.)

And being on a college campus put me in an environment where I once again heard a lot of newer music. I wasn’t as immersed in the music as I had been as an undergrad, I suppose. But I think I was more attuned to the tunes than I had been while working at the newspaper in Minnesota.

And then there was MTV. Late in 1983, I had cable television installed and I spent a fair amount of time with the television tuned to MTV, playing it in the background, kind of like radio with pictures. (This was back when MTV’s main purpose was to play music videos, an activity that has since become rare, if not nonexistent on the network.) So I heard a lot of new music that way, too.

As a result, I’m more familiar with the music from 1983 than I thought I would be when I began to assemble today’s random Baker’s Dozen:

“They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman, MCA single 52347

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Romance” by Gordon Lightfoot from Salute

“Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top, Warner Bros. single 9576

“Help!” by Isaac Scott from Big Time Blues Man

“Ta ‘Me Mo Shui” by Clannad from Magical Ring

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Kate Wolf from Give Yourself To Love

“It’s Cold Outside Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present

“Crawdad Hole” by Big Joe Turner & Roomful of Blues from Blues Train

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, Columbia single 03906

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by the Eurythmics, RCA single 13533

“Breaking Us In Two” by Joe Jackson, A&M single 2510

“Holiday” by Madonna from Madonna

A few notes on some of the songs:

Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” is one of those tunes that brings MTV to mind. The song is a witty pastiche of the early 1960s girl group sound, and the video itself is witty, especially the final shot of Tracey riding off with the slumming Paul McCartney. I love the chimes, too, which I’ve always kind of heard as a salute to Phil Spector.

Isaac Scott, who died in 2001, was a legend in Seattle. His bluesy take on the Beatles’ “Help” is an eye-opener. If I’m not mistaken, I found this track at the blog Rato Records, where Rato on occasion posts collections of obscure covers of Beatles songs. Many of those covers are a little bit lame; some of them are superb. This one falls in the latter category.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I discovered – probably through Enya, who was a member before her solo career – Clannad. Sitting firmly in a niche between new age and traditional, Clannad offers a sometimes breathy but often gorgeous take on Celtic music. Magical Ring might be the group’s best album.

Give Yourself To Love is an album of live performances released in 1983, a few years before Kate Wolf died from cancer. Her take on Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” is one of the better versions I’ve heard of that well-covered tune.

Big Joe Turner was one of the elemental forces in Kansas City R&B in the 1950s, and Blues Train, his 1983 album recorded with Roomful of Blues, sounds as if it came from KC sometime during those years. To repeat a Dave Marsh line, dated but never out of date.

Never having been a big Madonna fan, I’m unsure if this version of “Holiday,” which was on her self-titled debut album, is the same as the version that was released as the single. A six-minute dance single would not be unheard of, but I can’t find any information that tells me if the album track and the single were identical.