Saturday Single 457

August 1st, 2015

I “upgraded” overnight to Windows 10.

I write it that way because this morning, everything on my computer looks blurry, and it wasn’t last night.

As to the main features of 10, I imagine I’ll learn them soon enough. I’ve learned enough to get this piece posted. And I’ve found out how to move files from one folder to another. Given my daily sorting of mp3s, it’s maybe the function I use the most as I sit here, and it’s a function that’s seemingly put in a different place every time the operating system changes, so this is the fourth time I’ve had to figure out where it is: Windows 98, XP, 7 and now 10.

But I’ve learned that, and I managed to get the weather tile on the start menu changed from Washington, D.C., to St. Cloud. So we’re making progress.

As to the blurriness, I recall that when I switched from my old ungainly tube monitor to my wide flat sceen about eight years ago, things looked funny for a while. Eventually my eyes will adjust, I suppose. Or I’ll find a fix hidden somewhere deep in the workings of Windows 10.

Or I’ll go blind.

So here are the Blind Boys of Alabama with “Just Wanna See His Face,” a 2001 cover of the Rolling Stones’ tune that I found on the collection The I-10 Chronicles/2. (The songwriting credit is Mick Jagger/Keith Richards although I’ve read some comments from Bobby Whitlock that dispute those credits.)

The vocals are from Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and Joey Williams, and it’s worth noting the backing musicians on the track: John Hammond on guitar, David Lindley on slide guitar, Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Michael Jerome on drums and Danny Thompson on double bass.

With all of that, here’s today’s Saturday Single:

‘I Know It’s Late . . .’

July 30th, 2015

Having learned earlier this week that a cover of the classic soul song “Steal Away” was the last single Bobbie Gentry released, I did a minor bit of digging. As I wrote Tuesday:

It’s a tune that Jimmy Hughes wrote and took to No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1964 although I know Etta James’ 1968 version and Johnny Taylor’s 1970 cover better.

From there, I went and found Hughes’ version to refresh my memory. And as I listened, I glanced at a few websites and, as often happens, learned something unexpected: The Soul Tracks website told me that Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away” was the first recording made at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and it was the first release on the original Fame label in 1964.

I also noted Tuesday that deep in the digital shelves, I found Gentry’s 1978 cover of “Steal Away.” While listening to it, I wandered out onto the Web to find a visual for a video, and learned from the record label that it, too, was produced by Rick Hall. Its sound echoes, at least a little, some of Gentry’s earlier recordings and is, to my ears anyway, a little unsettling, which only seems fitting given the song’s topics of deception, stealth and betrayal.

For Another Time
I’d also mentioned Tuesday that there was at least one of other cover of Patti Dahlstrom’s “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right” out in the world. It was by the R&B trio of Pat Hodges, Denita James and Jessica Smith, recording for 20th Century as Hodges, James & Smith. Since then, however, the YouTube video of the track has disappeared. So we’ll listen to that track – and more, perhaps – from Hodges, James & Smith another day.

‘He Did Me Wrong . . .’

July 28th, 2015

Sometime yesterday afternoon, my pal jb – the whiz behind the blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – found another website where I can lose myself for a few hours. Now, it’s not like I needed another such site – I already indulge my ADD tendencies in too many places on the Web – but when I saw how Rebeat describes itself, I knew I was lost, or would be soon:

REBEAT is a digital blog/magazine primarily dedicated to mid-century music, culture, and lifestyle. We say “primarily” because the category is so broad, and the mid-century influence is felt in waves rippling through time.

The specific piece from Rebeat that jb offered at Facebook was an appreciation by Sharon Lacey of country singer Bobbi Gentry on her 70th birthday, a piece that noted that Gentry hasn’t been seen or heard since the early 1980s and that went on to review Gentry’s life and career, assessing Gentry’s six albums (and her one-album collaboration with Glen Campbell) along the way.

I’ve got those seven albums, and I generally agreed with Lacey’s assessments. The piece offered a few bits about Gentry’s life that I’d not known, like the fact that she was once married to performer Jim Stafford, but the most intriguing bit of new information for me came near the end of the piece, when Lacey noted that Gentry’s last single, a 1978 release that went nowhere, was “Steal Away/He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right.”

It took me a second. I know “Steal Away.” It’s a tune that Jimmy Hughes wrote and took to No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1964 although I know Etta James’ 1968 version and Johnny Taylor’s 1970 cover better. And it turns out that I have Gentry’s 1978 version, which is pretty good.

What grabbed my eyes, though, was the B-side: “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right.” I found it at YouTube:

While the track played, I clicked a few links and verified what I was pretty certain of: “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right” came from the pen of my friend Patti Dahlstrom and her friend Al Staehely and was a track from Patti’s 1975 album Your Place Or Mine. (It’s also on the 2010 CD, Emotion: The Music Of Patti Dahlstrom.) Here’s Patti’s version:

So I’m going to go lose myself in Rebeat for a while today and see what other gems I can find that I either have forgotten or never knew about. In a related vein, I already know that there’s at least one more version of Patty’s and Al’s tune out there, but I think we’ll leave that, along with a surprise, perhaps, for tomorrow or Friday.

Saturday Single No. 456

July 25th, 2015

My search feature told me this morning that among the Billboard Hot 100 charts that have been released over the years on July 25, one of them fell in 1970. I glanced at it, knowing as I did that every record near the top would likely be familiar, tunes I would have heard on KDWB (or on WJON or WLS after dark).

And I thought, “Why not just look at the KDWB survey instead?” So I stopped off at the Oldies Loon website and pulled up the station’s survey for July 27, 1970. (The survey is here.) And every record was more than familiar until I got right near the bottom of the survey, where Glen Campbell’s “Everything A Man Could Need” didn’t ring any bells. I checked it out on YouTube, was reminded that the full title was “Everything A Man Could Ever Need,” and then remembered hearing it and not being very impressed. Neither were the rest of KDWB’s listeners, as the record made it only as high as No. 28 on the station’s weekly surveys over a four-week run.*

So with a survey full of memories – as I’ve noted many times, the summer of 1970 was one of the best radio seasons of my life – what do I do this morning? I thought about playing some games with today’s date, and did a quick scan of the records that would be involved, those at Nos. 7, 15, 22, 25 and 32. And then I went back to No. 25, Bob Dylan’s “Wigwam.”

Back in the summer of 1970, I knew very little about Bob Dylan. I knew about “Lay Lady Lay” from the summer of 1969. I knew about “Blowin’ In The Wind.” I knew he was one of the big trees in the forest of folk and rock and pop music. I didn’t really know why.

But I loved the wordless “Wigwam,” which peaked at KDWB at No. 23 a couple of weeks later (and made it to No. 41 in the Hot 100). I know now, of course, that it came from Self Portrait, the ramshackle album that left most critics and fans baffled and annoyed at best. I know now a lot more about Bob Dylan. There are numerous albums of his that I admire more and enjoy more than I do Self Portrait. There are Dylan songs and Dylan recordings that I admire more than I do “Wigwam.”

But I still love the record, just like I did back in 1970. Because of that, and because it’s not ever been mentioned even once over the course of about 1,800 posts here, Bob Dylan’s “Wigwam” is today’s Saturday Single.

* “Everything A Man Could Ever Need,” from the movie Norwood, wasn’t a big hit nationally, either, making it only to No. 52 in the Hot 100. The record did get to No. 5 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

How Far Down?

July 23rd, 2015

So I glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 23, 1966 – forty-nine years ago today – and the Top Ten was familiar, as it was during that long-ago summer:

“Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Wild Thing” by the Troggs
“Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs
“The Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters
“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” by Dusty Springfield
“Paperback Writer” by the Beatles
“Hungry” by Paul Revere & The Raiders
“Red Rubber Ball” by the Cyrkle
“I Saw Her Again” by The Mamas & The Papas
“Sweet Pea” by Tommy Roe

I still wasn’t much of a fan back then, but summertime mean more time hanging around with the other kids, and someone back then always had a radio, so the hits of summertimes from, oh, 1964 through 1969 are more familiar to me than the hits that came along when school was in session.

And I liked some of the records in that Top Ten, notably “Hungry.” “The Pied Piper,” “I Saw Her Again,” and best of all, “Paperback Writer” (chiefly for what I later learned was Paul McCartney’s amazing bass line).

I ran down the second twenty records on that chart, and there were a couple that I wouldn’t have known back then: “Love Letters” by Elvis Presley and “You Better Run” by the Young Rascals. And I wondered how far down the chart I’d have to go to find a record that remains unfamiliar almost fifty years later.

As it turns out, not far. Sitting at No. 26 was “Sweet Dreams” by Tommy McLain, released on the MSL label, a record I’d never heard of or heard before:

It was a cover of Don Gibson’s 1956 release on the Jockey label, which went to No. 9 on the country chart. (Gibson re-released the record on RCA Victor in 1960, and it went to No. 6 on the country chart and to No. 93 on the Hot 100.) The more memorable cover these days, however, might be Patsy Cline’s 1963 effort – titled “Sweet Dreams (Of You)” – not only because it went to No. 5 on the country chart (as well as to No.44 on the pop chart and No. 15 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart) but because Sweet Dreams was the title of the 1985 biopic about Cline starring Jessica Lange.

McLain’s cover of the tune didn’t do that well. It did climb to No. 15 in the Hot 100, but it never made the country Top 40. And McLain – a native of Jonesville, Louisiana, described in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles as a “white ‘swamp-pop’ singer-songwriter” – never showed up in or near the Hot 100 again.

Another Mentor Gone

July 21st, 2015

The post below is one I wrote in 2011 about Dick Skewes. Mr. Skewes was the orchestra conductor at St. Cloud Tech High School when I was in junior high and during my first two years of high school. I played cornet for him during several summer programs and as a sophomore and junior, and he was easily one of the best and most influential teachers I ever had, helping me learn not just about music but about, among other things, preparation for performance and life both.

Dick Skewes passed on over the weekend at the age of 78, and many comments and posts on his Facebook page made it clear that he was, as I expected, similarly influential on the lives – in music and out – of many, many other students over the years.

When I noted last autumn the passing of my college mentor, E. Scott Bryce, I wrote, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that everything I’ve ever written since the autumn of 1975 has on it the fingerprints of E. Scott Bryce.”

Well, I can also say that every piece of music I’ve written or performed since the summer of 1967 has on it the fingerprints of Dick Skewes.

My love of classical orchestral music comes from a number of sources: My parents took me and my sister to numerous performances of the orchestra – and concert band and concert choir – at St. Cloud State when we were young. My mother and sister and I rarely missed a concert offered during my elementary and junior high years by the organization called Civic Music, which brought classical music to the St. Cloud Tech High gym/auditorium in many styles: piano soloists or duets, woodwind or brass ensembles, chamber orchestras, full orchestras and – for a few years – annual visits by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

But the most formative influence on my classical listening had to be Dick Skewes, who was the director of the St. Cloud Tech High orchestra from sometime during my junior high years until the end of my junior year in high school. I began playing cornet during the summer between fifth and sixth grade. It was three years later, as eighth grade ended, that Mr. Skewes entered my life.

My sister – three years older than I – played violin in Tech’s orchestra and she would do so in the summer orchestra program. I don’t know if the summer program was new that year or if I’d simply not noticed it before, but for about eight weeks during the summer, the St Cloud Tech orchestra would rehearse once a week – Monday evenings – and perform in a concert on the front lawn of the high school on Tuesday evenings.

And, as the summer of 1967 began, Mr. Skewes saw that the orchestra was short of trumpet/cornet players, and through my sister, extended me an invitation, which I accepted. For that summer and the next, and then for my sophomore and junior years in high school, I played trumpet parts on my cornet in Dick Skewes’ orchestra. (I do not recall an orchestra program during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, but if there was one, I played in it.)

And the music we played! Oddly, the titles of most of the works we played during the summers of 1967 and 1968 have faded, but the bulk of our programs was pulled from the work of Eastern European and Russian composers. These were pieces filled with heroic and tragic melodies, music that to this day for me personifies the Slavic soul. Among the pieces I recall from those first two summers in orchestra are an adaptation of Mussorgsky’s work for piano, “The Great Gate of Kiev” and one of the Slavonic dances by Antonín Dvořák.

In 1968, I moved the eight or so blocks from South Junior High to Tech High School and joined the Tech orchestra as a permanent member. And Mr. Skewes continued to challenge us with the music he selected for us, much of it again by Eastern European and Russian composers. Here’s a performance by the Leningrad Philharmonic of the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s opera Russlan and Ludmilla, a piece we in Tech’s orchestra struggled with during the first half of my sophomore year.

As I had been during my two summer stints, I was thrilled. This was so far removed from the classical music I’d expected to play. Don’t get me wrong: I love a wide variety of classical music. But it seemed to me the use of the horn section – where I lived – was far different in the works by the Slavic composers than it was among the works of many of the other great composers. As an example, one of the other pieces we played during my sophomore year was the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, a piece that has been over the years one of my favorite bits of classical listening. But when one listens closely, the horns are not at all busy. And one of the most frustrating things for me as a cornet player in the orchestra was patiently counting in my head forty measures of rest and then playing eight notes before sitting back to count another forty measures. I didn’t have to do that very often with the Slavic composers.

I know I frustrated Dick Skewes. I was not a hard worker. I had a good ear, and my lip was in good enough shape for performances. But I did not practice hard at the music we played. Most of it came easily, so when I was playing at home, I spent most of my time making my way through popular music songbooks. (Not rock and pop; the tunes in the songbooks I paged through were classic pop, things that Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and, yes, Al Hirt had or would have recorded.)

So I slid by on the gifts I had, not expanding them. Until Mr. Skewes selected for our orchestra’s competition season and winter concert season during my sophomore year the First and Fouth Movements of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From The New World.” Written by the Czech composer during a visit to the United States in the 1890s, the work pulls Native American and African American motifs into the classical form.

As our orchestra struggled through the pieces during the early portion of my sophomore years, I was stunned at what I was hearing. There was so much for the horns to do! But I had a major challenge: The trumpet part was written for a trumpet keyed in A. In other words, the note called a C on such a horn would be the same as an A on a string instrument or a piano. Most trumpets and cornets – mine included – were keyed in B-flat, which meant that the notes I was supposed to be playing were a half-note different than the notes that I was instinctively reading and instinctively hearing in my head.

Mr. Skewes’ solution was perfect for me. After school one day, he sat me down with my trumpet part and his score and he put on the orchestra room stereo an LP of the Dvořák symphony. I used my ear to find the appropriate pitches, leaving the notation to provide only the rhythm. I’ve been grateful ever since for his willingness to find another way to help me to learn. And learn I did. Even now, more than forty years later, I know the trumpet parts to the two movements we performed that years of Dvořák’s stunning work. I couldn’t play them, as my lip is horribly out of shape, but I know the parts. Here’s the Dublin Philharmonic with Dvořák’s Fourth Movement:

Mr. Skewes left St. Cloud Tech for graduate school after my junior year, a year when I was second chair in the orchestra instead of first chair, as I had been a year earlier. That frustrated me, and I think it frustrated him, too, because I hadn’t worked as hard as I could on my audition piece. But even the second trumpet parts to the things Dick Skewes had us play were far more interesting than the music I played in the orchestra during my senior year. Our new conductor had us performing lots of Haydn and Handel, lots of pieces that had me counting forty measures and then playing eight notes. It wasn’t nearly as much fun.

My classical library, on LP and CD and in mp3 form, covers a wide variety (especially since my LP library was augmented by the records from the Musical Heritage Society that Dad collected). But when I look at the things I listen to most often, most of them trace their musical lineage to at least one of two places (and sometimes both): The Slavic lands of Eastern Europe and the director’s stand where Dick Skewes stood for those years when I was his horn player.

Thank you, Mr. Skewes.

Saturday Single No. 455

July 18th, 2015

Summer just got a whole lot busier here.

The two gardens have already offered us zucchini, yellow squash and lettuce, some banana peppers and one or two slicing cucumbers, and last evening, the Texas Gal spent about an hour in the near garden, pulling the first rounds of green and wax beans. The wax beans didn’t quite fill a bowl that I estimate at about five quarts, while the green beans topped their bowl by about a quart.

Then, as we ate dinner with the beans bagged and waiting in the refrigerator, we got a call: The half-bushel of small pickling cucumbers that the Texas Gal had ordered were available. So this morning as she headed off to the farmers’ market downtown, I pulled canning and pickling equipment and supplies from the fruit cellar and washed and cleaned those things that needed washing and cleaning.

As I write, the Texas Gal is washing and cutting green beans with the wax beans soon to follow. Some will be canned and some will be frozen and some few, I imagine, will end up on tonight’s dinner table, accompanying three ribeye steaks that are currently thawing and have a date with our new broiler pan this evening.

And tomorrow, the kitchen here will turn into the Thirteenth Avenue Pickling Plant, as the half-bushel of small cukes is processed into jars of kosher dills, polish dills and perhaps a few hot mustard dill pickles.

Beyond this weekend, we will see more green and wax beans, more zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers, many more peppers and many tomatoes, some cabbages and eggplants and a good supply of herbs. By the end of August, as the picking, canning and pickling season begins to draw to an ending, we’ll be well tired of all of it, the Texas Gal more than I, certainly. After all, she is the gardener and canner, and I am only the helper (and more comfortable helping in the kitchen than in the dirt).

But those are our roles, and for what must be the seventh year now, we shall see how our gardens grow.

And here’s a tune I’m certain I’ve shared here before, and probably in this context, but it’s been a few years, and it still works. That’s why Genya Ravan’s cover of Derek & The Dominos “Keep On Growing,” from her 1973 album, They Love Me, They Love Me Not, is today’s Saturday Single.

On The Reading Table

July 17th, 2015

As noted here before, I read a lot. My reading time is generally lunch time and an hour or so before bed, and as I’ve also mentioned here before, I generally have bookmarks in three or four books at a time and move among those book pretty much on whim.

But every now and then, a book comes along that grips me enough that it’s the only thing I read, and as I get into it, I find myself squeezing out another ten or fifteen minutes of reading time here and there. And when I read late at night, I find myself reluctant to stop, moving my bedtime back bit by bit, just to absorb another twenty pages or so.

That’s what happened last week with A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm (2005). In Britain during World War II, Atkins climbed from a clerk’s position to near the top of the Special Operations Executive, the organization that sent agents behind the lines into Nazi-occupied Europe to work with local resistance movements. Atkins’ work focused on France, the most important of the occupied nations in the view of the SOE. Many of the agents Atkins sent into France were women, a fact that caused some consternation among British officials, who ended up classifying the women agents as non-military because, you know, we can’t have people thinking we sent women into dangerous combat-like situations.

Many of those agents were captured by the Nazis, and when the war ended, no one took the responsibility to look for the missing women. Except Atkins. After the liberation of France and on through the aftermath of the war, Atkins went looking for clues and information to solve the mysteries of her missing agents.

All that in itself would make for a gripping tale. But Atkins herself was mystery. No one who knew her – and Helms managed to interview a fair number of folks who knew Atkins before, during and after World War II – seems to have known her well at all. A trove of documents left with a relative seems to leave more questions than it answers. But by putting together bits and pieces from those and other documents and from interviews – and talking the reader through the process as she does – Helms assembles a story that takes us places as widely scattered in place and time as the Pale of Settlement in 19th century Russia, Bulgaria before World War I and Canada after World War II.

Along the way, it becomes clear that Vera Atkins had her own secrets, some of which Helms uncovers and some of which Helms can only offer as speculation (although with evidence that seems persuasive).

Atkins doesn’t come across as likable; she seems to have been unable – to name just one of several noted flaws – to admit to being wrong, either personally or professionally. There are several indications of the latter but only a few of the former, as Atkins seems to have let very few people very far into her life. Helms, however, isn’t interested in liking Atkins. She’s interested in solving Atkins’ mysteries. In the end, Helms seems to have solved them, which is quite a feat for a writer working sixty or more years after the fact, researching a subject who seems to have worked hard at not leaving any clues behind.

One of the things that first drew me to A Life In Secrets was the speculation I saw somewhere that Vera Atkins was the model for Ian Fleming’s Miss Moneypenny, secretary to M and gentle foil to James Bond. It’s possible, Helms notes, but unlikely, and in the end, it doesn’t matter. None of the tales Fleming created for 007 were as complex and intriguing as Vera Atkins’ own story.

I Should Know Better

July 16th, 2015

I was going to write about books today. I’ve got quite a few in the current reading pile and some good ones on the “recently finished” pile. But I’m exhausted and just not up to it. I guess I need to take the advice that comes from one of my favorite tunes.

Here’s Z.Z. Hill’s take on Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises (You Can’t Keep).” It was released as a single on the Kent label in 1968.


July 14th, 2015

After a late start this morning and an unfortunate difficulty with peanut butter, the day seems somehow damaged. I’ll regroup for some afternoon tasks, I’m sure, but for now, I’m just going to check out a few things on the Texas Gal’s want list and then dabble with some mp3s that need tagging.

So here’s a Tuesday song: “Tuesday” by Birtha, a four-woman group from the early 1970s based in the Los Angeles area. Its members were Shele Pinizzotto on guitar, Rosemary Butler on bass, Sherry Hagler on keyboards and Olivia “Liver” Favela on drums. All four women sang. The track is from the group’s self-titled 1972 debut album.

I’ll be back tomorrow or Thursday, writing about the books currently on my reading shelf.