Archive for the ‘1964’ Category

Saturday Single No. 536

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

So, a chance to breathe. And to rewind to two weeks ago today, when I headed over to my recently discovered barber shop, Barbers on Germain, where Russ has been clear-cutting my scalp since sometime early this year.

On the way over – not far; just across the Mississippi and west about a mile – I slid into the CD player a Time-Life anthology of hits from 1964, and as I drove, up popped Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” I knew the record, but only a little, not nearly as well as I know his 1950s work that was a major part of the foundation of rock ’n’ roll, the records like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and the rest.

And I realized – not for the first time – that I’d not offered anything here to note Chuck Berry’s passing on March 18. Over the years here, I’ve noted the passing of many artists, but I imagine that if I were to take the time to track out the subjects of those pieces, my choices of which artists’ passings to note might seem idiosyncratic. That’s likely no surprise. But to ignore Chuck Berry?

So I thought, as I headed up the sidewalk to Barbers on Germain with the strains of “You Never Can Tell” running through my head – “C’est la vie,” say the old folks. “It goes to show you never can tell.” – that I should probably do something here about the man and his music. Well, c’est la vie, indeed. The following Monday was the start of two weeks of dealing with changes in my mom’s life, as I noted here yesterday.

I’m not going to say that Chuck Berry’s music, life and passing are now old news: The edition of Rolling Stone that came into my mailbox yesterday has Berry on the cover. But I’ve read too many tributes to the man at too many blogs and online publications in the past month to have any assurances that whatever I offer here would be anything other than echoes of those pieces.

So I think back to that drive to the barber shop. As “You Never Can Tell” came out of the speaker, I thought about Dave Marsh’s comments in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles, The Heart of Rock & Soul. He ranked “You Never Can Tell” at No. 341, writing:

Chuck returned from doing time on his trumped-up Mann Act charge in 1964 as if his flow of hits had never been interrupted. The new batch included two of his finest, “Promised Land” and “You Never Can Tell.”

“You Never Can Tell” makes an obvious break with Berry’s earlier format, not so much by prominently featuring Johnny Johnson’s piano as by using it with a New Orleans-style beat.

Had prison altered Chuck’s gifts in any way? Nah, he was bitter and hostile before he went in. And still a poet when he came out. How else explain: “They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale / The coolerator was crammed with teevee dinners and ginger ale.” It may not read as great as it sings, but then, neither does the rhythm of everyday life.

So here, to catch up and to offer my respect and thanks to Chuck Berry, is “You Never Can Tell.” It went to No. 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

(Quotation corrected after first posting.)

‘Another Shipment’

Friday, November 18th, 2016

One of the things I didn’t mention earlier this week about last weekend’s cabaret performances was my voice: As Friday and early Saturday passed, I had a persistent frog in my throat. The only thing that seemed to keep it at bay was a decongestant, and even then, my voice felt rough.

As showtime approached Saturday, my voice was raspy, and a new package of decongestant – a different brand than my usual – wasn’t working well. So on my way to StudioJeff, I stopped at the nearby grocery store and wandered over to the cough drops. I was looking for the store brand to save a few dimes, but every package of the store brand contained menthol, which I dislike at least a little.

So I went to the brand names, and there were the Luden’s wild cherry flavored drops. I bought a bag, and in the car, I popped one of the drops in my mouth. And the flavor took me back more than fifty years.

At Lincoln Elementary School in the mid-1960s, neither chewing gum nor candy was allowed in class. (The same would hold true when we headed off to South Junior High, although at St. Cloud Tech High School, students could chew gum. I have no idea what’s restricted or allowed these days.) There were, however, what one could call medical exceptions. A student with a sore throat was allowed to chew Aspergum, an orange-flavored gum that contained aspirin and actually did soothe the soreness. It wasn’t much of a treat, however, as the orange flavor did not last long, and the gum quickly became a grainy glob in one’s mouth. Another exception was cough drops; whether cough drops had any medicinal value, I don’t know, but they did tend to soothe raspy throats.

And some of them tasted pretty good. Cherry was the preferred flavor among the twenty or so students in my sixth grade class during the 1964-65 school year, but there was some dispute about brand preference: Some of the kids preferred the Smith Brothers brand, while others held to Luden’s. One of the Luden’s fans in my class was a kid named Mike.

And one morning when he had a nagging cough from a cold, Mike ran out of cough drops. Knowing that I walked home for lunch each day and knowing as well that my five-block route took me right past the little grocery store on Fifth Avenue Southeast, Mike asked if I could pick up a box of cough drops for him on the way. The drops cost fifteen cents, or about a penny each, if I recall correctly (as opposed to the $2.50 or so I paid for a bag of thirty last weekend), and Mike gave me a quarter. He said I could keep the dime.

And from then on for about a month, I was Mike’s cough drop runner. Two or three times a week, he’d hand me a quarter during morning recess and say, “I need another shipment,” and shortly before one o’clock that afternoon, I’d hand him a box of Luden’s cherry cough drops. It didn’t take long before Miss Hulteen – our sixth grade teacher and the principal of Lincoln Elementary – figured out that Mike’s cold and resulting cough had gone away and he no longer needed his cough drops. And after a little further observation on her part, we were busted.

I don’t think the disciplinary outcomes were too severe. I imagine our parents were called, but I truly don’t remember, which tells me that there were no major penalties. I just stopped buying cough drops for Mike. And I had to quit buying whatever it was that I bought with the ten cents I’d netted from each shipment (most likely Sour Grapes bubble gum, one of my favorites of the time).

And just to throw some music out there that has a temporal (and flavorful) connection to my tale, here’s “Up Cherry Street” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. It’s from the 1964 album South of the Border, and it wound up as the B-side of the “South of the Border” single in 1965. The single didn’t hit the Billboard charts, but the album went to No. 6.

‘Tougher’

Friday, September 16th, 2016

I don’t remember the product – probably Excedrin – but I remember the commercial:

A thirty-something woman dressed in her best Eighties office clothes strides along the street and tells the camera (and those of us who were watching): “Life got tougher.”

And she catalogs all the ways life in 1982 (I think) was so much harder than it had been, oh, maybe ten years earlier. And then tries to sell us something to ease the resulting headache.

Back in its day, I used a reference to that commercial as a lead paragraph for an editorial at the Monticello Times, writing about how we cope with the harsh realities of life and how we sometimes don’t. And it came to mind the other day. My mom was in the hospital for a few days this week with pneumonia. She’s recovering, and she’s been transferred to a short-stay care facility for some physical therapy with the hopes of rebuilding her strength and balance so she can return to her apartment in her assisted living center.

I think she’s going to be okay. But my week has been a little stressful: getting her to the hospital and then to the short-stay facility; talking to doctors, nurses, physical therapists, social workers and case managers at both facilities; making decisions about her preferred location on the fly; keeping my sister informed about it all; taking care of some things for church; and keeping our house running as smoothly as possible. It’s been wearying. And during one of these days as I was driving from one place to another, I thought about that 1982 commercial.

And I thought, “Lady, if you thought life was tough thirty-four years ago when you were in your thirties, just wait.”

Then I thought for a bit more as I drove, and I realized that had that fictional woman in the commercial actually been living a big city, power-suit life, going home to a husband and kids in the suburbs, she’d now be – like me – in her early sixties. She’d probably be thinking about retirement and Medicare, worrying about her adult children and maybe indulging her grandchildren, and very possibly caring in one way or another for an elderly parent or two.

So, yeah, life got tougher.

But you know, maybe it’s always been this tough, and we Baby Boomers – the vast majority of whom, if we’re honest, had it pretty good and were pretty sheltered for our first twenty or so years – just didn’t know. That would explain the surprise and frustration proclaimed in that 1982 commercial, a proclamation that echoed what we were feeling out there in consumer-land, for the ways in which things are sold to us is a good a mirror of who we are.

You want tough? Consider my folks’ early years: Wall Street crashed and triggered the Great Depression during the year my dad turned eleven and my mom turned nine. Dad went into the army in the late 1930s, about the time my mom was teaching elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse with a woodstove for heat and no running water. Then came World War II. And then things got better, but it still took a lot of hard work.

So yeah, in 1982, life probably got tougher for us as we were dealing with the realities of the adult world that maybe surprised us as a generation. But you know, I have a sense that life has always been tough and we learn that as we mature and grow older; and we need to remember that there are times that are not as tough as others.

So all of that is what I’ve been pondering as I make my way from one task to another this week, aware through the worry, the frustration and the fatigue that maybe life got tougher for me, yeah, but I’m coping, as most of us find a way to do.

And here are Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men with “Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough” from 1964.

The Other Ray Charles

Friday, August 5th, 2016

As has been noted here several times over the years, my dad wasn’t a big music fan. He’d listen to the radio some – mostly in his old 1952 Ford or when he was puttering at his workbench in the basement – with the dial tuned either to WCCO from the Twin Cities or to the country sounds of WVAL from nearby Sauk Rapids.

And after we got the portable RCA stereo in mid-1964 – it sat awkwardly on the floor in the living room or on a shelf in the dining room until the rec room in the basement was finished in 1967 – Dad bought a few records, but not many. When we cleared stuff out of the house on Kilian in 2004, I brought home fifty-some records, most of them classical recordings Dad got through the Musical Heritage Society, the ones he said that my sister and I would be glad to have someday. (He was right.)

Along with those came a number of easy listening albums, several of which I recalled clearly from the mid-1960s. I even knew where he bought them.

If you were to ask anyone who lived through the 1960s in St. Cloud where the center of downtown was, I’d guess most folks would answer “Dan Marsh Drugs.” Opened in the 1930s at the corner of St. Germain – St. Cloud’s equivalent of Main Street – and Sixth Avenue, Dan MarshDan Marsh Drugs cropped was where we – and a lot of other Cloudians – went for prescriptions and other health aids; for cigarettes and pipe tobacco and smoking accessories, for soap and perfume and similar sundries; for cameras, film and flashbulbs; for school supplies; for gifts for any occasion; and, especially after the store expanded in the mid-1960s, for Hallmark greeting cards and similar ephemera.

When you tired of shopping, you could grab refreshments in the coffee shop. (For decades, until the store closed during the 1980s, the coffee shop was also the place for many students from two nearby high schools – St. Cloud Tech and Cathedral – to gather after school for cherry cokes and French fries.)

And you could buy records there, too.

There weren’t a lot of LPs at Dan Marsh, and they were generally on what I’d consider second-line labels. I wrote long ago about Dad buying an album called Ringo at Dan Marsh, knowing I liked the Lorne Greene single; that album, and a couple others I remember, were on the Wyncote label. Another that I pulled off the shelf this morning – covers of themes from spy movies – was on the Design label.

And one day he brought home an album that sounded promising, titled Young Lovers In Far Away Places by the Ray Charles Singers, this one on the Somerset label. Now, I would have been eleven or twelve at the time, but for as little as I cared about pop music, I knew about Ray Charles. I’d likely seen him on television one time or another, and I although I couldn’t have identified his music as soul or R&B, I knew I liked what he did. So I was prepared to like the record.

(I already liked the jacket, with its minimalist design and the photo of the pretty and clearly sophisticated blonde giving her companion an unmistakably sultry look.)

Dad put the record on the stereo. The first track was “Far Away Places,” and it was soft and sweet with pretty voices and pretty backing and not at all what I would have expected – even with my limited musical awareness – from Ray Charles. And the whole record was like that, soft and pretty. I was confused, but I did nothing to clarify things. I just ignored the record. I doubt that I put it on the turntable again, or even thought much about it until Dad’s records came to me in 2004.

And then, as I went through Dad’s records, I looked at the jacket and the pretty blonde and the name of the group, and I nodded. By then, I’d become aware that there was another Ray Charles, one who wasn’t a soul and R&B singer but who was instead a songwriter, arranger and conductor, mostly for television. His Ray Charles Singers, according to Wikipedia, had performed on Perry Como’s television show (and on Como’s records, too), and began recording their own albums in 1959. “Due to advances in recording technology,” says Wikipedia, “they were able to create a softer sound than had been heard before and this was the birth of what has been called ‘easy listening’.”

Well, I think there were more midwives to the birth of easy listening than the Ray Charles Singers. I think of 101 Strings, formed in 1957, and of the Ray Conniff Singers, which began recording in 1959. Jackie Gleason’s orchestra was releasing records in the mid-1950s, and Mantovani’s recording career began in the late 1940s. And those are just off the top of my head. But there’s no doubt that the work of the other Ray Charles and his singers fit right into the easy listening music that a good chunk of the American public liked to hear at home.

And I like Young Lovers In Far Away Places today far more than I did in 1965. (And, of course, I still like the other Ray Charles, too, the one who sang “I’ve Got A Woman” and all that soul and R&B stuff.)

Here’s “Far Away Places” by the Ray Charles Singers.

Saturday Single No. 500

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Ah, that’s a nice round number, 500 is. And I thought of finding a special tale to go with it, but all we’re going to do here today is talk about a box of records, which is appropriate enough.

Actually, we’ll start with ten boxes of records, the ten that the Texas Gal and I hauled down to Minneapolis about a week ago. I’d spent some hours sorting, as I noted some weeks earlier, and was running out of room in which to work. So we decided that I’d box up the records I’d already pulled off the shelves for sale and head down to Cheapo in Minneapolis.

The records in those ten boxes generally included work from artists starting with Abba and ending with Chuck Jackson. I kept about a third of them, including lots of Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and Jackson Browne as well as stuff by more obscure artists and groups. I also sorted a couple of crates of box sets, ranging from Fillmore: The Last Days to Cocktail Piano Time, one of seven Reader’s Digest collections I inherited from my dad; I kept all seven.

I should note that even though my first batch of sorted albums covered the main stacks from A to J, I keep the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band on a separate shelf. And to paraphrase the Bard of Hibbing, they ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Anyway, a little more than a week ago, we made our way into south Minneapolis, to the new Cheapo location. Tony, the record buyer, said he remembered me from my more slender days when I was in the old location two or three times a week, and he said he’d try to get back to us with a total sales figure in a day or two.

We weren’t sure what to expect. I knew Tony and Cheapo would be fair; I’d done enough business there over the years to trust him and the company. I also knew that there were quite a few things in those ten liquor boxes that would be nice finds for a digger: Some Jimi Hendrix albums bought new and played only once. The same with Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Cream, Creedence, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead and Earth, Wind & Fire. There were about 650 records altogether in those ten boxes,and I was estimating we’d get maybe $300, not quite fifty cents per LP.

The Texas Gal wasn’t so sure. “I was thinking,” she told me, “that you tend to over-value your collection, so I was expecting maybe $150 overall.”

By the time we got back to St. Cloud, Tony had called, asking me to give him a call. I did, and he told me that he’d mail us a check for $405. Thrilled, I posted the news on Facebook. One of those who saw the post was my sister, and she called me a couple of days ago and asked if we were going to make another trip to Cheapo anytime soon. Yeah, I told her, as soon as I get another ten boxes ready to go; the records heading out are in bins on the floor waiting to be boxed.

She said she was coming to St. Cloud to see our mom the next day and wondered if she could drop off a box of records for me to include in the next batch we sell. “You’re welcome to anything in the box, of course,” she added. “There’s some easy listening stuff, lots of Ferrante & Teicher.”

“Oh, good!” I said

There was a moment of bemused bafflement and a chuckle. “Anyway,” she went on, “just use what you can and sell the rest.”

She dropped off the box the next day while we were at a doctor’s appointment, and I happily went through it. Some of the records I recognized as LPs she’d owned before she got married and moved away from Kilian Boulevard in 1972: A record titled Gaité Parisienne with music by Offenbach and Gounod, a recording of “The 1812 Overture” by the London Symphony, and albums by Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, the Lettermen and Ray Conniff.

And there was a lot of stuff that I can trace back to my brother-in-law’s tastes during the late 1960s and early 1970s: the aforementioned Ferrante & Teicher albums (seven of them), and albums by Paul Mauriat, Tony Mottola, Tommy (Snuff) Garrett, the Ventures, Billy Strange, Roger Williams, Andy Williams, Frankie Carle and the pairing of Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry.

(I’ve written several times about my sister’s album collection as it existed in early 1972, and there are a fair number of albums I recall from that time that did not end up in the box left at our doorstep. She held on – understandably – to albums by Glenn Yarbrough, Leo Kottke and Cat Stevens, among others. And, also understandably, she kept her copy of Traditional Jewish Memories. And that’s fine. I have all of those in one form or another, and I understand how we sort the cherished and loved from the simply liked.)

I’ll keep some of the records my sister left here – Gaité Parisienne, the Streisand, the Conniff, “The 1812 Overture” and a few others. The rest will go to Cheapo, but before they do, I’m going to rip a lot of them to mp3s, including several of the Ferrante & Teicher albums and a lot of the other easy listening. That project started yesterday, when I pulled the 1967 compilation The Best Of Billy Strange from the box.

It was in very good shape for being nearly fifty years old, and it was a lot of fun. Maybe my favorite track was the final one, Strange’s take on the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run.” It was included on his 1964 album The James Bond Theme, and along with some nifty surf guitar runs, it includes a few fitting Bondian flourishes. And for all that, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 493

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Wandering about the wilderness this morning in search of inspiration, I made my way to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, often a good place to find a nugget that points the way to a vein to be mined.

And I found something. It’s not the mother lode, but it’s something, and it leads the way to a group with a couple of Top 40 hits that has nevertheless managed to remain unmentioned during the nine-plus years I’ve been throwing stuff at the walls in this space.

I decided to scan the lengthy list of weekly surveys issued by the Twin Cities’ WDGY over the years. As I’ve noted before, KDWB was the Cities’ station where I got my fix. The only time I ever heard WDGY was when I wandered by the station’s booth during my youthful trips to the Minnesota State Fair, as we couldn’t hear the station in St. Cloud. The differences between the two stations’ playlists, as I’ve learned from other excursions to ARSA, are generally negligible, but it’s fun to have a doughnut from a different bakery once in a while.

So I scanned the list of WDGY’s survey dates and No. 1 records for early 1964, and saw what would be called an anomaly:

1964-02-01 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-08 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-15 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-15 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-02-22 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-22 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-02-29 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-29 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-03-07 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-03-07 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-03-14 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-03-14 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-03-21 Beatles / She Loves You
1964-03-28 Beatles / Twist And Shout
1964-04-04 Beatles / Twist And Shout
1964-04-11 Serendipity Singers / Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)
1964-04-18 Beatles / Can’t Buy Me Love
1964-04-25 Beatles / Can’t Buy Me Love
1964-05-02 Beatles / Can’t Buy Me Love
1964-05-09 Beatles / P.S. I Love You
1964-05-09 Beatles / Love Me Do
1964-05-16 Beatles / Love Me Do
1964-05-16 Beatles / P.S. I Love You
1964-05-23 Beatles / Love Me Do
1964-05-23 Beatles / P.S. I Love You

The fact that the Beatles dominated the top spot in WDGY’s survey at the time is not remarkable; that was happening all over the country. The fact that a record came along and broke the chain is not remarkable, either. That was bound to happen.

But the Serendipity Singers? Described by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles as a “pop-folk-novelty group” that hailed from Boulder, Colorado, the Singers, in 1964 and 1965, had two records reach the Billboard Top 40 and three more bubble under the Hot 100. Their music was slickly produced commercial folk, similar to – if less good than – the stuff that the New Christy Minstrels and the Seekers were putting out during pretty much the same time frame.

It’s not bad music, but that’s not the point. It’s just that the band’s appearance in the above list – as the breakers of the streak, as it were – is so unlikely. Given what I know and remember about the early months of 1964, if I’d been asked which record would butt into the Beatles’ long stretch, I’d have offered Louis Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly!” And if I’d been looking at KDWB’s surveys, I’d have been correct: Armstrong ended a twelve-week Beatles’ streak there in the first week of May 1964.

The other thing that struck me – and that took a bit of digging – was that WDGY was one of the few stations that saw “Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” reach the top spot in their surveys. From what I could tell this morning – and this ain’t a dissertation, so my research might have missed something – the Serendipity Singers’ record topped surveys that season at just three other stations: WAKY in Louisville, KQV in Pittsburgh and the mighty WLS in Chicago.

As to the national charts, “Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” went to No. 6 in the Hot 100. (The Singers’ only other Hot 100 hit was “Beans In My Ears,” which went to No. 30 later that same spring.)

So here are WDGY’s Beatle-beaters, the Serendipity Singers, whose “Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Hi Ho, Nobody Home . . .’

Friday, December 18th, 2015

When our small band of church musicians looked ahead to Sunday’s scheduled celebration of the season and of holiday traditions from around the world, we dug into our songbooks and memories and our collections of LPs, CDs and mp3s for some inspiration.

And one of the tunes that my friend (and co-musician) Tom came up with was “A’Soalin’,” recorded in 1963 by Peter, Paul & Mary for their Moving album:

Tom told us (and will tell our fellowship members Sunday) that the song arises from the English Christmas tradition of handing out goodies on the day after Christmas. It’s far more likely that the song arose from the tradition of handing out what were called soul cakes on All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) and that Peter, Paul & Mary turned it into a quasi-Christmas song by appending a verse from “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to the ending. But never mind. It’s a good tune.

(But the spelling puzzles me: How did “soul” become “soal”? I suppose we’d have to ask the writers, who are Noel Paul Stookey, Elaina Mezzetti and Tracy Batteste for the song. I have no idea who Tracy Batteste is; the only time I seem to find her name online is in collection with “A’Soalin’.” Mezzetti, according to the official Peter, Paul & Mary website, is Peter Yarrow’s sister; Yarrow said she was given writing credit on “A’Soalin’” and some other PP&M tunes to provide her some income. So if anyone knows why the spelling changed, I imagine it’s Stookey. If I ever get the chance, I’ll ask him.)

Anyway, the odd thing about “A’Soalin’” was that when Tom introduced us to the song, I knew the first verse. Long ago, as I wrote about cover versions, I told the story of my dad’s gift to me in early 1965 of an album titled Ringo, featuring the spoken-word tale made famous by Lorne Greene. The 1964 album, however, was by a group called the Deputies, and that disappointed me. Still, I listened to the album, unhappily comparing the Deputies’ lame version of “Ringo” to the one I heard on the radio. But I also heard for the first time “Big Bad John” and versions of other songs in the public domain: “Shenandoah,” “Darling Nelly Gray,” “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey” (offered as just “Bill Bailey”) and a few others.

And I heard an odd track with melancholy lyrics and a melody offered at points as a round and studded with abrupt ascending key changes. It got a trifle manic at points. The Deputies called it “Hi Ho.” And I liked it well enough.

It is, of course, the first verse of what PP&M had recorded in 1963 as “A’Soalin’.” I’d once considered digging the Deputies’ album from its place on my country shelf, but I’d been thinking at the time about their versions of “Big Bad John” and “Shenandoah.” I’d not thought about “Hi Ho” for years, until Tom shared the PP&M track with us.

So I listened to the Deputies again and realized it’s not as neat to me in 2015 as it was fifty years ago. And that’s okay.

All In Texas

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

As we drove down the Interstate Saturday en route to meet friend and regular commenter Yah Shure for lunch, the radio offered us ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” I wondered out loud whether I should have included the record or the group’s “Legs” in this blog’s long-completed Ultimate Juke Box or the following series of posts called Juke Box Regrets.

Having decided that including ZZ Top’s “La Grange” in the long project was likely enough Texas boogie, I told the Texas Gal that one of my goals in life is still to drive through the streets of La Grange, Texas, with my car audio blaring out “China Grove.”

“Or the other way around?” she asked with a chuckle. That would do, too, I told her. And then she asked “But what about Luckenbach?” I said I wasn’t sure what to do about any visit to that city, and we began listing song titles that include the names of cities in Texas. It didn’t take us long to come up with a good list, and I’ve continued the work this week. So here’s a six-stop musical tour of the Lone Star State.

We’ll cross into the state from the Oklahoma panhandle, probably because someone told us to get of out Dodge City, just a ways north and east in Kansas. So the first major city we come to, smack-dab in the middle of Texas’ own panhandle is Amarillo. And it’s “Amarillo” by Emmylou Harris that starts off our musical tour. She’s lost her fellow, but not to another woman: “Oh I lost him to a jukebox and a pinball machine,” she sings.

The song, written by Harris and Rodney Crowell, was the opening track to Harris’ 1975 album, Elite Hotel. The album went to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 25 on the Billboard 200. And we’re on our way south, noting that we could have listened to a couple of other tunes instead: “Midnight In Old Amarillo” by Cindy Cashdollar (2004) or “Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait (1982).

But we head south to Lubbock and then make our way southeast to Abilene, which George Hamilton IV said, in his 1963 cover of Bob Gibson’s 1957 song, was “the prettiest town I’ve ever seen.” Hamilton’s “Abilene” was a pretty major record, sitting on top of the country chart for four weeks and reaching No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 15 on the Hot 100.

The record was one of thirty-one that Hamilton got into the country Top 40 between 1960 and 1973. I have to admit that his work is mostly unfamiliar to me, and I may correct that. While in Abilene, we could also have listened to Bobby Bare’s 1963 cover of the same song, Dave Alvin’s similarly titled but entirely different song from 1998 or Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Way Out In Abilene,” which showed up for me on a 1973 album titled Legacy of the Blues, Vol. 12.

We head east along Interstate 20, now getting into parts of Texas I’ve seen, even if I don’t know them well. Eventually, we make it to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and the first tune we come across is the 1984 single “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” by George Strait. His gal has gone to Dallas, not far away in miles, but far enough in culture. My take on the two cities – and the Texas Gal generally agrees – is that Dallas is a city that mixes Eastern and Southern cultures in a kind of uneasy truce, while Fort Worth, just thirty or so miles away, is a Western city, and the gap between the two is greater than the distance.

Strait’s record went to No. 1 on the country chart, one of an incomprehensible number of country hits in his column. (My copy of the Billboard Book of Top Country Hits goes through 2005, and Strait’s total at the time the book came out was eighty; All Music lists at least twenty country hits for Strait since then.) As we leave Fort Worth, we’ll skip Dallas and head south, but as we do, we can listen to Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Fort Worth” from 1968 and what seems to be an obscure single by Steely Dan from 1972 titled “Dallas.”

About ninety miles out of Fort Worth, we reach Waco and the Brazos River, where Billy Walker’s bandito was urging himself on in 1964’s “Cross The Brazos At Waco.”

The record went to No. 2 on the country chart and bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 128. “Cross The Brazos . . .” was one of thirty-eight records Walker put into the country Top 40 between 1954 and 1976. As we cross the Brazos and prepare to leave Waco, we can listen to Ronnie Dunn’s “How Far To Waco” from his 2011 solo album.

The road bends slightly to the southwest, and 180 miles later, we find ourselves in San Antonio. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys released two versions of one of his most famous songs: “San Antonio Rose” in 1938 had a traditional string band arrangement, while “New San Antonio Rose” in 1940 added horns and some odd vocal embellishments, but the two were essentially the same song.

As we head through San Antonio, we choose the instrumental “San Antonio Rose” by pianist Floyd Cramer. The 1961 single was the most successful of the records we’re listening to today: It went to No. 8 on both the country and pop charts and to No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart. There are no doubt other tunes about San Antonio, but they’re not on the digital shelves here, and as we drive southwest out of town, we listen to versions of Wills’ tune by Patsy Cline and Leon Russell.

Our last stop today is another 150 or so miles to the south: Laredo, right on the Rio Grande, celebrated in one of the great traditional American songs. The version of “Streets of Laredo” that we hear today is by Willie Nelson, found on his 1968 album Texas In My Soul. Oddly enough, no version of the song has hit the country Top 40, but a version by Johnny Cash bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 124 in 1965. (The tale of “Streets of Laredo,” as gathered at Wikipedia, is quite interesting.)

And if we’re in a mood for some different Laredo music as we reach the Rio Grande, there’s always the “Nuevo Laredo Polka” by Gilberto López, a 1950 track. And casting regretful thoughts toward records about El Paso, Houston, Brownsville, Galveston and more, we come to a stopping place.

‘I Know It’s Late . . .’

Thursday, 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.

Let’s Go To Town

Tuesday, 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.