‘Goin’ Down That Road . . .’

May 26th, 2015

Poking through the nooks and crannies of the ’Net over the weekend, I came across an album titled Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. The performances were recorded and released in 1956 on the Tradition label. (From what I can tell, the record was re-released in 1976 on the Tradition Everest label, and then released on CD at least twice in recent years.)

I didn’t recognize all the performers’ names, but one that I did recognize was that of Etta Baker (1913-2006), a North Carolina guitarist and singer whom I’ve seen mentioned as one of the main influences on Taj Mahal. And among Baker’s performances on the twenty-track album was this sprightly take on “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad.”

It’s an old song, most often listed as of traditional origins, which is how it was listed when I first came across it on Motel Shot, the 1971 album by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends:

It’s a tune I’m going to dig into more in the next few weeks, which will mean digging into the tune’s origins as “Lonesome Road Blues” as well as into the many covers of the song under either title. In the meantime, the Texas Gal is on vacation this week, so I’m going to take some time away from here. I may be back with a Saturday Single, or I may be gone all week. See you when I get back.

Saturday Single No. 448

May 23rd, 2015

We’re going to play some games with numbers this morning, digging into some Billboard Hot 100s from a twenty-year span in search of a Saturday single. We’ll take today’s date – 5-23-15 – and add that up to 43, and then we’ll check out No. 43 in the Hot 100s for May 23 in the years 1987, 1981, 1976, 1972, 1969 and 1967.

Why, some may ask, are we beginning this in 1987, a year that rarely shows up here musically? (And many may not care.) Because May 23, 1987, was, one of those dividing days, a day during which my life changed dramatically. First, and of lesser importance, it was the day that effectively ended my adjunct teaching time at St. Cloud State. I spent a good portion of the day sipping coffee in a St. Cloud restaurant, figuring out final grades for the students in my visual communications class. And then, that evening, I went to a friend’s party, where I met someone. By the time I drove home to Monticello in the early hours of May 24, my life had changed.

So off we go, starting with the Hot 100 released on May 23, 1987, where No. 43 was “Sweet Sixteen” by Billy Idol. More mellow and restrained than most of Idol’s charting work, the record was on its way up to No. 20. It’s catchy and sweet, but for some reason, the record unnerves me. I guess I’ve always had the sense that underneath the veneer of love, there’s an obsession for the young lady that might eventually find itself expressed in less-than-acceptable ways.

And in 1981, we fall directly on May 23 once more, and we find that the No. 43 record that week was “Say What,” by Jesse Winchester. The jaunty record was rising in the chart, heading for a peak of No. 32 (No. 12 on the Adult Contemporary chart), which would make it the only Top 40 hit in the long and mellow career of the late singer-songwriter. Running into “Say What,” which is a pretty good single, might be a sign, given my long-running affection for Winchester and his work, or it might just be a coincidence.

Things rock a little more when we go back to May 22, 1976, as we find “Crazy On You” by Heart sitting at No. 43. The first charting single for the Wilson sisters and their friends, “Crazy On You” was heading toward its peak at No. 35. (The Mushroom label reissued the single in 1977 after Heart had moved to the Portrait label on its eventual way to Epic; the reissued single went only to No. 52.) For some reason, I whiffed at the time on “Crazy On You” and its summertime follow-up, “Magic Man,” not catching on to Heart until “Dreamboat Annie” during the winter of 1976-77. I’ve since made up for that whiff.

And a decent bit of Stax soul greets us as we dig into the Hot 100 from May 20, 1972, when the No. 43 record was “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long” by Frederick Knight of Birmingham, Alabama. The record would peak at No. 27 (No. 8, R&B), giving Knight his only Top 40 hit. As I said, it’s a decent record, but the low bass parts contrast with the falsetto to make it sound – at some points, anyway – a little bit like a novelty.

And as we head back another three years, we go from an R&B singer with one Top 40 hit to a classic pop singer with twenty-seven Top 40 hits: “Seattle” by Perry Como was parked at No. 43 in the Hot 100 that was in play during this week in 1969. “Seattle” wouldn’t head too much higher; it would peak at No. 38 (No. 2, AC), but the song is etched deeply into my memory: One of Rick and Rob’s sisters was a big fan of the song and of the television series Here Come The Brides, which used the song as its theme, and I heard the record frequently when I was at their house. (According to Wikipedia, however, neither Como’s version nor the version recorded by Bobby Sherman – who starred in the show – was ever used on the show; when lyrics were added to the theme during the show’s first season, they were sung by “The New Establishment,” which one would guess was a group of studio singers.)

We finish our trek back today with a stop in the third week of May 1967, when the No. 43 record was “Melancholy Music Man” by the Righteous Brothers. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard the record until this morning, and it sounds like – a little more than a year after “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” went to No. 1 – Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were throwing anything at the wall, as long as it had a Spectorish backing and some call-and-response vocals, to see what would stick. Well, “Melancholy Music Man” didn’t stick, as it moved no higher than No. 43. And I understand its failure: The record sounds like a mess.

So, with six candidates, where do we go? Well, long-time readers will know that as soon as Jesse Winchester showed up, anything that came after would have to be better than good to alter the outcome of today’s contest. And although I like “Seattle,” it’s just not good enough. That means that “Say What” by Jesse Winchester, is today’s Saturday Single.

(The video above uses the version of the tune from the album Talk Memphis. Whether it’s the same as the single, I don’t know.)

Goodbye To Bobby J.

May 21st, 2015

The murmurs started at Facebook Monday or maybe over the weekend. No one had heard from Bobby Jameson for a while. Was he okay?

Jameson, the mercurial musician whose 1960s music I’d written about during the first year or so of this blog, had a habit of deleting his Facebook page and going away for a while. Someone would say something that offended him, and he’d walk away from FB for a while. But in a day or two, he’d start up again, sending friend requests to me and the hundreds of other people who were his FB friends and who read his poetry and his blog posts and listened to the hours of music – most of it never previously released – that he put up at YouTube.

There were good reasons for his getting annoyed and offended. He suffered from horrible headaches, and that gave him a short fuse. In recent months, both his brother Bill and his mother had passed on, and he was still grieving. And as anyone who spends even a small amount of time online knows, the world is full of idiots and vipers, people who find their satisfaction in either telling people what they should do or in putting other folks down in utterly cruel ways.

Having survived the 1960s craziness of Hollywood/Los Angeles and the strain of life on the streets, and being in recovery from substance abuse for more than forty years, Bobby knew that sometimes the best thing one can do when confronted by idiots and vipers is to walk away. So he often cut ties with his friends and came back a few days later, mending most of those ruptures and starting over again.

But when folks in Bobby’s collection of friends online noticed that he hadn’t posted a thought, a poem or a tune for a while, the questions started and the murmurs grew louder. And two days ago, on Tuesday, the word spread from friend to friend, from page to page: Bobby Jameson was gone. It happened a week earlier, on Tuesday, May 12.

Bobby’s brother Quentin posted yesterday on Bobby’s page: “I especially want all to know that Bob did not harm himself. He had an aneurism in his descending aorta. He was clear headed to the end. He made (I think) a good choice not to opt for a risky surgery, which would, at best, have left him disabled in a nursing home for a few more years. He died true to his own rules of sobriety, honesty, and independence; a warrior’s death.”

From what I understand, it was my 2007 commentary on Bobby’s 1969 album, Working!, that spurred him to join the online world. A couple of people at Bobby’s FB page and at mine have mentioned that in the past few days. One of his friends noted, “[A]lthough he cursed that decision many times, I’m not sure he would have ever done it any differently. I am glad he had the chance to speak up about the past, write his own blog, and begin working through the feelings of all that had happened to him.”

It was through Bobby’s online presence – his blog, his YouTube channels (here and here) and his Facebook page – that I’ve become friends over the years with a large number of people, some of whom knew him in his Los Angeles days, some of whom knew him during the darker days of the early 1970s, and some who’ve met him since. And we’re all grieving.

I never met Bobby Jameson in person, but in the way that the world works today, our online connection made him my friend and my brother. I’m going to miss him, sharp corners and all.

One of the things that pleased me most during the early days of our friendship was that shortly after my piece on Working! brought us together, he shipped me an mp3 of his cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona,” a 1968 track that had been recorded for Working! but was ultimately trimmed from the 1969 album. I was touched that he’d trust me with it and allow me to share it with readers in this space. Here’s one of the two videos he made over the past few years for the track.

Let’s Go To Town

May 19th, 2015

Every once in a while, you just gotta go to town and find out what’s there for you.

So you need an invitation? Okay, you’ve got one from Joe Therrien & His Rockets, who recorded “Hey Baby Let’s Go Downtown” on the Brunswick label in 1957. The rockabilly invitation turned up a few years ago on That’ll Flat Git It, a massive (twenty-six volumes) collection of generally obscure country and rockabilly singles.

So, once we’re in town, we need to find out what’s going on. That means we need to listen to the “Small Town Talk” as offered by Rick Danko from his 1977 self-titled album. The tune, written by Danko and Bobby Charles, was first released on Charles’ 1972 self-titled album (which Danko co-produced with John Simon). It’s since been covered on occasion, most recently by Boz Scaggs on the album A Fool To Care, released in March.

If we’ve been gone a while, well, we might find it kind of hard to fit back in, even after several years. That’s what happened to Percy Mayfield (or at least he imagined it did) to inspire the song “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” There are a few versions of the tune out there, but the one that gets me going is Elvis Presley’s, recorded in Memphis in February 1969 and originally released on the 1970 album, Back In Memphis.

And of course, there might be some folks in town that we’re not all that happy to see, as the Tokens noted in “He’s In Town” in 1964. The record, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, made it to No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. If he’s back in town, and she’s thrilled about it, it might be kind of hard to stay.

We might stay anyway, but I have a sense that we’d be wandering the streets late at night, murmuring to ourselves about “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” just like Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes were back in 1977. The track, written by Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt, was originally released on the album This Time It’s For Real.

But you know, if we get past all that and hang around town for a while, we might find ourselves in a place where we belong, and someone else might come along from somewhere else who needs what we have to offer. In that care, we’d be the “Home Town Man” that Terry Garthwaite and the rest of Joy Of Cooking were thinking about on their Castles album in 1972. And we’d be home.

Saturday Single No. 447

May 16th, 2015

By now, I’m sure that anyone who comes by here knows that B.B. King is gone. The blues legend passed on at the age of 89 at his Las Vegas home late Thursday evening (May 14). And blogworld and Facebook are filled with tributes, memories and clips of King’s performances both live and in the studio. I spent a fair amount of time reading and listening yesterday.

I was lucky enough to see B.B. King in concert once; he was the headliner at a blues program offered in 1995 at the Minnesota State Fair. He was nearing the age of seventy, he told us, and so he sat down as he performed, but the notes still came clear from the guitar he called Lucille, many of them shining with that silvery vibrato wrung from his dancing left hand.

But the music he brought forth and offered the world for almost seventy years was only part of the story of B.B. King. As I read a very good account of King’s life, written by Tim Weiner of the New York Times, this caught my eye:

B. B. stood for Blues Boy, a name he took with his first taste of fame in the 1940s. His peers were bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, whose nicknames fit their hard-bitten lives. But he was born a King, albeit in a shack surrounded by dirt-poor sharecroppers and wealthy landowners.

That shack was in Berclair, Mississippi, which Weiner describes as “a hamlet outside the small town of Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta.” And by the time he passed on in his Las Vegas home nearly ninety years later, he was a multi-millionaire. That arc from poverty to riches might be nearly as important to King’s story as is his music. I say that because from everything I’ve read over the years and then over the past day, none of it – the money, the adulation – really changed Riley B. King. He was, from what I’ve seen from far more than one source, one of the nicest men a person could ever meet.

And that’s good to know. I mean, I listen to and enjoy a fair amount of music made by people who I know were mean-spirited. So it’s nice to know that part of B.B. King’s legacy is that the good cheer with which he played his often broken-hearted blues was real.

There is, of course, a fair amount of B.B. King’s music on the digital shelves here, and more in the vinyl stacks. Sifting through it to find one track to feature here this morning was a little daunting. Then I came across a track from King’s 2008 album, One Kind Favor, an earthy album of covers produced by T Bone Burnett.

“Sitting On Top Of The World” is a song first recorded in 1930 by the Mississippi Sheiks (though Second Hand Songs notes that “[m]ore than half of its melody was in Tampa Red’s instrumental composition ‘You Got To Reap What You Sow’ from the previous year”). Since then, it’s been covered by folks ranging from Howlin’ Wolf and Bob Dylan to Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys and Mitch Miller. King’s version from One Kind Favor seems to make for a nice curtain call, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

No. 1’s Heard Live

May 14th, 2015

I noted the other day that when Louis Armstrong performed at St. Cloud State in 1966 and played “Hello, Dolly,” that was almost certainly the first time I’d heard a live performance of a No. 1 record (by the original performer, that is). And I wondered how many of those moments there have been in my life.

That called for an hour or so spent paging through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, which I accomplished this morning. It turns out that I’ve heard twenty tunes performed by the original artists that have hit No. 1, which seems not a bad total for someone who’s never spent a lot of time going to concerts or clubs.

Two of the No. 1 records have come my way live more than once. I heard Don McLean perform “American Pie” at St. Cloud State in February 1986 and then again in August 1990 in Columbia, Missouri. But that’s topped by Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” which I’ve heard live three times: In the spring of 1973 at St. Cloud State’s Selke Field; when Preston opened for the Rolling Stones in Århus, Denmark, in October 1973; and when he played with Ringo Starr’s first All Starr Band in St. Paul in July 1989.

I also heard two other No. 1 tunes on that 1989 evening in St. Paul: Ringo’s “Photograph” and “She’s Sixteen,” but even that great night is eclipsed by the October 1973 evening when I heard Preston’s hit and then took in three No. 1 hits by the Rolling Stones: “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Angie.”

Going back further in time, there was one other night when I heard three No. 1 tunes from the original performers: In October 1970, the Rascals played St. Cloud State and did “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got To Be Free.” It’s a concert I tend to forget because my memories of the evening are tinged with some melancholy: My hopes of taking a certain young lady to the show evaporated very late in the day. With an extra ticket in hand, I gave Rick a call, and he was more than happy to see the show, but even with his good company, I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I had anticipated.

I’ve been at a few other shows over the years during which I heard two performances of No. 1 hits: The Association did “Windy” and “Cherish” at a St. Cloud State show in early 1970; Glenn Campbell sang both “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” at a show in St. Cloud in 2011; and Paul McCartney performed “My Love” and “Band On The Run” when the Texas Gal and I saw him in St. Paul in September 2002.

Those last two, of course, were initially credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, but despite the absence of the Wings folks during that St. Paul performance, I think I can reasonably put the two songs on this list because no matter who the other members of Wings were over the years, McCartney was the main driving force. That wasn’t the case with the Beatles, of course, which is why I don’t include the bonanza of mostly McCartney-penned Beatles’ No. 1 hits that made up a good chunk of that evening in St. Paul: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Yesterday,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long & Winding Road.” (Along the way that evening, McCartney performed the George Harrison-penned “Something,” another No. 1 hit, as a tribute to his late bandmate.)

That leaves just three other performances for this list: “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” by the 5th Dimension during an October 1969 concert at St. Cloud State, “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond at the Minnesota State Fair in September 1971, and the performance that sparked this post, ‘Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong in January 1966 at St. Cloud State.

And to close, here’s a live performance of “Photograph” by Ringo’s first All Star Band at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 1989. This sounds a lot like it sounded in St. Paul earlier that summer. (Members of that band were: Jim Keltner and Levon Helm on drums, Rick Danko on bass, Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren on guitars, Dr. John on piano, Billy Preston on keyboards, and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. As Ringo says in the video, his son Zak Starkey sat in.)

Offenbach With Bongos

May 12th, 2015

So there I was this morning, sipping my coffee and thinking about possible blog posts. As I thought, I was wandering through Easy and Wonderful, one of the blogs that satisfies my itch for easy listening music, and I came across an album titled Champagne & Bongos by the Irving Fields Trio.

How could I resist?

I knew nothing about Irving Fields, though I’ve since learned that, according to Wikipedia, he’s had a lengthy and successful career as a soloist, with his trio and with the Irving Fields Orchestra. Along with a review of his career, the page about him at Wikipedia – updated this year – notes that Fields, now 99, “currently plays six nights a week at Nino’s Tuscany, an Italian restaurant in New York City.” (A quick check at the website for Nino’s Tuscany confirms that Fields still plays there.)

Champagne & Bongos, a 1962 album, turned out to be a collection of tunes from or about France with, in fact, some bongos adding rhythmic touches. It was one of several bongo-backed albums Fields released with his trio around the same time: Pizza & Bongos (1958) featured Italian tunes, Bagels & Bongos (1959) and More Bagels & Bongos (1961) featured traditional Jewish music, and Bikinis & Bongos (1962) featured Hawaiian tunes. I may have to seek out of few of those and take a listen as well to some of Fields’ work without the bongos.

And just as I couldn’t resist grabbing the album, neither can I resist sharing a portion of it here. So, from Champagne & Bongos, here’s the Irving Fields Trio’s “Can Can Merengue,” based at least mostly (if not entirely; I’m not certain) on themes from Jacques Offenbach’s compositions, as presented (again, as far as I understand it) in orchestrations by the composer’s nephew in the 1938 ballet Gaîté Parisienne.

Clarification added after initial posting.

Saturday Single No. 446

May 9th, 2015

With the morning melting away – I slept in a little bit and then the Texas Gal and I headed north a couple miles to Sauk Rapids for breakfast – I thought I’d just dip into the collection of Billboard charts and see what those released on May 9 might bring us for a Saturday morning tune.

During the span of years that interests us here, there were four such charts, falling in the years 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1970. We’ll be looking at the records that were at No. 59 (for 5/9), and just for fun, we’ll see what the No. 1 record was for each of those weeks.

We start with 1956, when Billboard was calling its major chart the “Top 100.” Sitting at No. 59 was “Without You” by Eddie Fisher, a romantic and somewhat overproduced (to even my pop-friendly ears) ballad that was making its way back down the chart after peaking at No. 41. Even without having looked yet, I’m pretty sure we’ll find something later in the time line that suits my ears and sensibilities better. The No. 1 record on that day fifty-nine years ago was “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley, in the third of eight weeks it would spend in the top spot.

Moving ahead to 1960, we find a little bit of New Orleans in the No. 59 spot of the Hot 100 with Fats Domino’s “Tell Me That You Love Me,” which had jumped thirty-seven spots from its previous slot at No. 96. It would peak at No. 51. This one – a decent N’Awlins loper – is a good candidate, as I do love me some Fats. The No. 1 record on May 9, 1960, was another Elvis single, “Stuck On You,” which spent four weeks at No. 1.

And so we move on to 1964, when the No. 59 record on May 9 was “Three Window Coupe” by the Rip Chords, a Beach Boys sound-alike that was the Chords’ follow-up to their No. 4 hit, “Hey Little Cobra.” The coupe didn’t do nearly as well: The “toughest machine in town” peaked at No. 28. Parked at No. 1 fifty-one years ago today was Louis Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly.” (Armstrong played a concert at St. Cloud State in 1966, which means that “Hello, Dolly” was certainly the first No. 1 hit I ever heard live. How many others have there been? I don’t know, but it seems as if that might be a good topic for a post here.)

As I’ve noted frequently, the year of 1970 ranks pretty highly in my list for life and music both. When May 9 rolled around, the No. 59 record was the two-sided single “California Soul/The Onion Song” by the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. I’d not heard “The Onion Song” until this morning. It’s got a nice groove and a decent message, but it nevertheless stands on what has to be one of the more odd metaphors in the songbook of Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford. As to “California Soul,” it reminds me of a genial difference of opinion I had with the late Paco Malo: The Gaye/Terrell version was his preference, while I leaned toward Marlena Shaw’s cover of the tune. In Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, the two-sided single is listed with “The Onion Song” first, with a peak of No. 50, while “California Soul” is shown as peaking at No. 56. (Whitburn notes that both tracks were among those on which Simpson sang the female lead because of Terrell’s declining health.) As to the No. 1 slot during that week in 1970, it was occupied for the first of an eventual three weeks by another double-side single: “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who.

Well, I was tempted by the Fats Domino single, and even the Rip Chords record has some attractions, but as soon as I saw the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell single pop up, I knew where I was going. It’s been not quite a year since Paco Malo – the proprietor of the blog Goldcoast Bluenote – left us, and I miss him. So in his memory, here are Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (actually Valerie Simpson) with Paco’s preferred version of “California Soul,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

Delaney & Bonnie’s Last Call

May 6th, 2015

One of the quirkier books on the shelves here is The Last Time When, a 1981 volume by George Gipe. From the last play by Aeschylus (The Oresteai, performed in Athens in 458 B.C.E.) to the last words of Carl Jung (“Quick, help me get out of bed. I want to look at the sunset” in 1961), Gipe’s book chronicles endings both significant and trivial.

Opening the book at random, we learn the last day in the 834-year history of the Les Halles Market in Paris was March 2, 1969; the last empress of Russia was Catherine the Great, who passed on in 1796; the last survivor of the first World Series, which took place in 1903, was Fred Parent of the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) who passed on in 1972 at the age of ninety-six; the last of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s twenty-six “Fireside Chats” took place on June 23, 1944; the last L’il Abner comic strip appeared in U.S. newspapers on November 13, 1977; and on and on.

Many more endings have taken place, of course, than Gipe could list in his book, and I ran across one of them today. In the Billboard Hot 100 for May 6, 1972 – forty-three years ago today – Delaney & Bonnie’s “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way” sat at No. 99. It was the second week for the record in the Hot 100, and it was the last. And it was the last time that Delaney & Bonnie would be listed in the Hot 100.

The single – as noted on its label – came from the 1970 album On Tour With Eric Clapton. Since that tour, the couple had released three albums: To Bonnie From Delaney in 1970, Motel Shot in 1971, and Country Life in 1972. But that last album was withdrawn by Atco shortly after its release in early 1972, and the Bramletts’ contract was sold to CBS; the same material was released on Columbia with a different running order as D&B Together.

So the Bramletts were at Columbia by the time Atco released the single version of “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way,” two years after the release of the live album. And the track was likely reconfigured some (perhaps severely): On the live album, “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way” has a running time of 5:20; the single lists a running time of 2:28 on its label (but as I’ve noted many times, running times on singles can’t always be trusted). I’ve never heard the single, and I would guess by its two-week chart run and its peak at No. 99 that not a lot of folks did.

Here’s what the track sounded like on the 1970 album:

Forty-Five Years

May 4th, 2015