Archive for the ‘1963’ Category

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

‘You Done Your Daddy Wrong . . .’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Back when I was a little horn-playing sprout, listening to my Herb Alpert and Al Hirt records on our RCA stereo, I found myself wanting to dance every time the needle got to the last track on Hirt’s 1963 album, Honey In The Horn. With its rapid tempo, its lip-rippling horn riffs, and its background singers chants of “Go along, go along,” I loved Hirt’s cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”

Of course, at the age of twelve or so, I had no idea it was a cover. I had no idea who Hank Snow was. And I had no idea that Snow’s 1950 original had topped the country chart for a record-tying twenty-one weeks, matching the performance of Eddy Arnold’s 1947 release, “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms).” (In 1955, Webb Pierce tied Arnold and Snow when his “In The Jailhouse Now” was No. 1 for twenty-one weeks, and in 2013, notes Wikipedia, the three records were dropped from their record-holding positions when “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line spent twenty-four weeks at No. 1.*)

I’m not sure when I learned about Snow’s original – sometime between 1965 and 2000, I guess – but it’s without a doubt one of the classics of country music:

The record came to mind the other day when I heard a version of “I’m Movin’ On” by Johnny Cash with Waylon Jennings that was recently released on Out Among the Stars, a collection of recently discovered Cash recordings from 1981 and 1984. And I wondered what other covers might be out there, expecting the list to be lengthy.

And I was right: Second Hand Songs lists more than fifty covers of the Snow song, and there are others at Amazon (though many of those listings are the Rascal Flatts song with the same title). And Wikipedia references a few other covers. I don’t entirely trust that list, however, as it cites covers by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, and I can find no indication that either Dylan or Zep recorded the song. (Dylan’s official website does note that he performed the song in concert nineteen times between 1989 and 1993.)

Some of the covers have hit the various charts. On the country chart, Don Gibson took the song to No. 14 in 1960, and a live version by Emmylou Harris went to No. 5 in 1983. (The Harris version linked here is from an anthology, and I believe it’s the single version from the live Last Date album, though I imagine the single might have had the introduction trimmed. If it’s the wrong performance, I’d appreciate knowing about it.)

Three versions of the tune have also hit the pop chart: A jaunty cover by Ray Charles went to No. 40 (and to No. 11 on the R&B chart) in 1959, singer Matt Lucas took the song to No. 59 in 1963 in his only appearance on the chart, and John Kay saw his Steppenwolf-ish cover of the tune go to No. 52 in 1972.

And that’s enough for today. We’ll be back later this week with some more.

*Based on what I read at Wikipedia, I have some reservations about “Cruise” holding the record for most weeks at No. 1, as some of those twenty-four weeks belong to the original release and some of them belong to a remix by hip-hop artist Nelly. If there’s a remix, is it the same record?

‘You’re Never Too Old To Change The World . . .’

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Pete Seeger passed away yesterday. His story is well told in today’s edition of the New York Times (and told in great detail at Wikipedia), and I thought that instead of trying (and failing) to tell the whole story this morning, I’d just share a few moments of Seeger’s musical life and heritage.

Seeger was a founding member of the Weavers, the early 1950s folk group that had a No. 1 hit with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and was blacklisted for its liberal leanings during the 1950s Red Scare. This is the Weavers’ 1950 recording of “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” written by Seeger and fellow Weaver Lee Hayes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Seeger was considered by many to be a dangerous man. As Wikipedia relates, “In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government. Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled. In February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.”

Seeger’s songs and music were without doubt popular and important far beyond the reach of radio and pop music. Still, in the 1960s, a few of his songs provided hits. “If I Had A Hammer” was a hit for both Trini Lopez (No. 3, 1963) and Peter, Paul & Mary (No. 10, 1962). (It’s likely, for what it may matter, that Lopez’ version of the song is the first Pete Seeger song I ever heard, as a copy of Lopez’ single came home with my sister one day in one of those record store grab bags of ten singles for a dollar. I still have the single, with “Unchain My Heart” on the flipside.) The Byrds (No. 1, 1965) and Judy Collins (No. 69, 1969) reached the charts with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” And “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was a hit for the Kingston Trio (No. 21, 1962) and Johnny Rivers (No. 26, 1965), while a version by guitarist Wes Montgomery bubbled under the chart (No. 119, 1969).

Perhaps the greatest attention Seeger got in the 1960s was when he was scheduled to perform his Vietnam allegory, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” on the CBS television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, in September 1967. Wikipedia notes, “Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers’ Brothers show in the following January.” Here’s that January 1968 performance:

This morning, after I heard the news of Seeger’s passing, I dug around at YouTube for something different to post at Facebook. I came across a mini-documentary detailing how Seeger came to recite Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” for the 2012 collection Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. It’s a piece that tells as much about Seeger as it does about the recording he was invited to make. I was especially moved at the end of the piece when one of the Rivertown Kids, the Seeger-organized choir of young people involved in the recording, seemed to sum up Seeger’s life about as well as can be done: “You’re never too old the change the world.”

‘One Day I Awoke . . .’

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Last Saturday, after I shared Ella Washington’s cover of “He Called Me Baby” as a Saturday Single, a reader named Larry provided a link to Candi Staton’s superb cover of the Harlan Howard song, which Staton recorded at Rick Hall’s Fame studios in Muscle Shoals. I’d heard it before, but it never hurts at all to hear it again. In 1971, it went to No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 9 on the R&B chart.

That might be the definitive version of the song; its country roots are clearly audible beneath the R&B. The opposite – R&B audible beneath the country – is what I hear when I listen to the Harlan Howard original, which Second Hand Songs says was released in September 1961. In 1963, Bobby Bare did an up-tempo version of the song, and Skeeter Davis and Patsy Cline covered it as well; Cline’s version went to No. 23 on the country chart a year later, after her death.

Two other versions made the country Top 40: Carl Smith had one of his sixty-nine hits on the country Top 40 when his cover of “She Called Me Baby” went to No. 32 in 1965, and Charlie Rich’s cover went to No. 1 on the country chart and to No. 47 on the pop chart in 1974:

There are a few other covers listed at Second Hand Songs and a few more listed as well in the catalog at Amazon: Ernest Tubb, Ferlin Husky, Billy Swann, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Waylon Jennings, Glenn Campbell, Nancy Wilson and Jessi Colter are the names I recognize; there are many I don’t recognize, which tells me the song continues to be vital.

As usual, when I look at covers, this is in no way a comprehensive listing; these are the versions I either already had in my mp3 files or found by stumbling through a few websites. And we’ll close today with a version I found during that stumbling: Jeannie Newman’s 1967 cover on the Memphis-based Goldwax label. I’ve read that Newman was about the closest to a country artist that R&B-centered Goldwax had on its roster, and her take on “He Called Me Baby” tends to support that.

‘Stewball Was A Race Horse . . .’

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Now, about the song “Stewball.” We offered in this spot yesterday the version of the song recorded in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label. Pretty much a work song, that was the second of several iterations of the folk song that arose in England in the late Eighteenth Century.

Second Hand Songs notes: “Skewball, born in 1741, was a racehorse bred by Francis, Second Earl of Goldolphin. The horse, a gelding, was purportedly the top earning racer in Ireland in 1752, when he was 11. The song apparently originated as a ballad about a high stakes race occurring in the Curragh in Kildare, Ireland, in March 1752, which Skewball won.” The website gives a date of 1784 for the song, noting that the date “is for the oldest broadside identified of the ballad . . . held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.”

The webpage continues, “According to John and Alan Lomax in American Ballads and Folk Songs, the ballad was converted into a work song by slaves – which is supported by the version of the lyrics published in their book. ‘Skewball’ apparently became ‘Stewball’ after the song migrated to the United States.”

Beyond the work song version of “Stewball,” the original story-song continued to be recorded. A 1953 recording by Cisco Houston is the earliest listed in the on-going project at Second Hand Songs, but Woody Guthrie recorded the tale of the horse race in 1944 or 1945. His version was released in 1999 on Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4 on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

Then came along the Greenbriar Boys. A trio made up by 1960 of John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, and Bob Yellin, the group, says All Music Guide, was “[o]ne of the first urban bands to play bluegrass” and was “instrumental in transforming the sounds of the hill country from a Southern music to an international phenomenon.” The Greenbriar Boys released their first two albums of bluegrass tunes in 1962 and 1964, but of more import for us today is a tune that showed up on New Folks, a 1961 sampler on the Vanguard label. Herald, Rinzler and Yellin set the words of “Stewball” to a simple, folkish tune (written by Yellin, according to website Beatles Songwriting Academy) and recorded the song as their contribution to the album:

After that, covers of the new version followed: From Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963 (a single release went to No. 35 and is the only version to chart), from Joan Baez in 1964 and from the Hollies in 1966, according to Second Hand Songs. And I know there are many other covers. Most of those take on the Greenbriar’s Boys’ version (including one by Mason Proffit on its 1969 album Wanted), but there are other covers of the early folk version and the work song version as well. I didn’t go digging too deeply, though, because something else about the song grabbed my attention this week.

Now, I’ve heard the version of “Stewball” using the Greenbriar Boys’ melody several times over the years, notably the versions by Mason Proffit and Peter, Paul & Mary. Heck, I even sang it along with Peter Yarrow at a concert a year-and-a-half ago. But I’d never noticed or thought about the tune’s similarity to another famous song until this week.

Last Tuesday, I ran past Second Hand Songs while looking for an interesting cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1971 single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and when the results came up that put the Lennon/Ono tune in the adaptation tree for “Stewball,” I did a mild double-take. And then I thought about it, running the two tunes through my head. And yeah, John (and Yoko, to whatever degree she was involved in the writing, listed as she is as a composer) lifted the melody and chord structure from the Greenbriar Boys’ version of “Stewball.” There were a few changes, notably a key change and the addition of the “War is over if you want it” chorus, but it was essentially the same song.

And I’m not at all sure why Herald, Rinzler and Yellin didn’t complain. Does anybody know?

‘Pastures Of Plenty’

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Here’s something that’s showed up in this space on the fourth Thursday in November four years ago and then again last year. It still holds true.

Well, it’s Thanksgiving, at least here in the United States.

Other places, I imagine it’s an ordinary Thursday, but here, it’s a day when we feast – those of us who can, that is. As we feast, however, we should also consider the lives of others, both near and distant.

From news reports over the past few days, it’s evident that even here in one of the most blessed nations on Earth, there are people who need the help of others to afford even the most basic of Thanksgiving dinners. The Galilean told his disciples, “The poor we have always with us.” He’s still correct two thousand years later, and I often wonder why we in this nation, in this community of nations, aren’t doing more to be proving him wrong.

And I don’t know the answer. I think the answer – if there is one – gets lost in a morass of politics, economics, theology and ethics. And all the wrangling through those topics doesn’t get us one step closer to putting onto the plate of a poor child a meal of beans and sausage, never mind turkey with the trimmings.

I think, however, that more and more frequently in years to come, those of us fortunate to live in basic comfort – a comfort that must seem like unimaginable affluence to many in the world – will learn what it is like to live on the edge of want and need. It might do us some good, as it might instill in us as people a caring awareness of how fragile life and wellness have been for many who have lived on that edge for years, for decades, for centuries.

Many of us already have that caring awareness, that empathy necessary for us to understand the lives of others, an empathy that one would hope would lead to a driving desire to improve the lives of those others. Perhaps, in what appears to be a coming time of constraint and restraint, those who have not yet shown that trait can learn it. And when better times come again – as we all hope they will – perhaps more of us will be able to feast without the aid of others, and those of us so blessed will be able to lead still more of the world to the table to join us.

In the meantime, on this Thanksgiving Day, may your blessings be – as are the Texas Gal’s and mine – too numerous to count.

Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty” is not a song of thanks, but it caught my ear this morning as it sketched the lives of those on the lower portions of the economic divide, those who make possible the Thanksgiving that most of us celebrate. This version is by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and it’s from their 1963 album Hard Travelin’.

‘I’ll See You In My Dreams . . .’

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

As noted in a couple of recent posts, the lovely Isham Jones/Gus Kahn song “I’ll See You In My Dreams” first showed up in 1925, recorded by Jones with the Ray Miller Orchestra, with Frank Besinger handling the vocal. According to Joel Whitburn in A Century Of Pop Music, the record was No. 1 for seven weeks starting the first week of April and wound up as the No. 3 record for the year (behind “The Prisoner’s Song” by Vernon Dalhart and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” by Gene Austin).

Covers naturally followed. While I don’t think that “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is necessarily one of the most-covered songs of all time, it’s nevertheless a song that’s stayed in the public ear: The list of covers at Second Hand Songs – a listing that’s not necessarily comprehensive but which probably provides a good cross-section and starting point – shows versions of the song from every decade since but the 1940s, and I’m not sure if there’s a reason for that gap or not. Add to those versions the other covers I’ve found at YouTube, and the song is clearly one that’s remained popular.

Since the middle of last week, I’ve been wandering through many versions of the song, and I’ve found quite a few I like. My pal Larry, who hangs his hat at the fine blog, Funky 16 Corners, recommended the 1930 cover by Ukulele Ike, otherwise known as Cliff Edwards. (Edwards, perhaps better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinnochio, covered the song again in 1956 on his album, Ukulele Ike Sings Again.) Another early cover that caught my ear was the 1937 version by Guy Lombardo. And jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt  gave the song a whirl in 1939.

Perhaps the most surprising of the covers I found was the nimble-fingered instrumental version by Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded during a session for Sun Records in 1958; the take was finally issued on a Sun collection LP in 1984 and since then on CD. Other versions I generally like from the 1950s and 1960s included covers by Henri René & His Orchestra (1956), the Mills Brothers (1960), The Ray Conniff Singers (1960), Cliff Richard (1961), the Lettermen (1963) and my man Al Hirt (1968).

The only version of the song to hit the modern charts was an unsurprisingly bland take from Pat Boone, whose 1962 cover went to No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in and No. 9 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart.

Some versions baffle me (and you can easily find these – and others mentioned but not linked – at YouTube). I mean, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1980)? Then there’s some very odd percussion and production in a 1965 effort by Vic Dana. And in 1975, the Pearls took the song to the disco.

There were some other interesting versions. I found a cover by the Paul Kuhn Orchestra that was released on LP in 1980, but it sounds very much like something Bert Kaempfert would have released in 1965 or so. (Kuhn passed on in September, and his death inspired one of the great headlines: “Paul Kuhn, German jazzman who lamented Hawaii’s lack of beer, has died.”) Chet Atkins, recording with Merle Travis, did a nice cover for the 1974 album, Atkins-Travis Traveling Show, although the linked video offers what seems to be a shorter version of the tune, as included on a later compilation.

Howard Alden did a very nice guitar version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” ghosting for Sean Penn’s character Emmet Ray – a 1930s jazz guitar player – in Woody Allen’s 1999 film, Sweet and Lowdown.

And finally, one version that I like among the more recent covers is the faux-vintage and slightly rough-edged take from 2005 by folk singer Ingrid Michaelson along with singer (and ukulele player) Joan Moore.

Saturday Single No. 366

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

As certainly should have been expected, television and magazines (and to a lesser extent right now) newspapers are in historical mode this week, marking next week’s fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. By the end of next week, we’ll have been inundated with story after story about the events in Dallas that November day in 1963 and how they’ve reverberated through these last fifty years.

And we’ll go all anniversary again next February, when we mark fifty years since the Beatles first came to these shores and showed up in our living rooms via the Ed Sullivan show. That should be a bit more fun than this month’s reliving of the Kennedy assassination.

So we’re going to go back fifty years as well this morning, taking a look at four local radio surveys from fifty years ago today, a little less than a week before the world changed so abruptly and horribly. Given today’s date, we’ll see what records were at No. 11 and No. 16 on those local surveys and find our Saturday Single among them. We’ll also note, as we generally do, which records stood at No. 1 on that day at those stations.

We’ll start here in Minnesota, at the Twin Cities’ KDWB and its Fabulous Forty. Sitting at No. 11 is Tommy Roe’s “Everybody,” a record I’ve certainly heard but to which I’ve never paid any real attention. If, before this morning, someone had played it for me and asked me who I thought recorded it, I certainly would not have said Tommy Roe. I’m pleasantly surprised. Moving five spots down KDWB’s survey, we find Skeeter Davis with “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” a shooby-dooby-laden record that I am certain I have never heard before. Parked at No. 1 in the KDWB survey, on the other hand, is a record that I’ve heard many times: “Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo and April Stevens.

From there, we’ll head to New England and Springfield, Massachusetts, where WHYN released its Radio 56 Survey. The No. 11 record there fifty years ago today was Joey Powers’ “Midnight Mary,” in which the singer asks his girl to meet him at midnight, just like always. That might have been slightly naughty fifty years ago, and I wonder how it came across to parents and other authority figures. (The kicker, of course, is that the couple is secretly married, which might have eased some moral concerns but also might have worried parents in another direction.) Sitting at No. 16 in Springfield was Barry & The Tamerlanes’ “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight,” an unimpressive record that’s entirely different from the similarly titled Boyce & Hart entry from 1967. (That latter record spelled its final word as “Tonite,” and I wonder as I write if that spelling was a purposeful deed intended to differentiate the two songs/records.) And finally for Springfield, we’ll note that the No. 1 record at WHYN fifty years ago today was the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”

We’ll head west next, stopping at San Francisco’s KEWB, where the No. 11 record on the station’s Fabulous Forty was the Skeeter Davis record that was No. 16 in the Twin Cities. At No. 16, we find “Bossa Nova Baby” by Elvis Presley from the movie Fun in Acapulco. Some of Presley’s movie tunes were worthwhile, but this one doesn’t make that list, making our stop in San Francisco – the only west coast city with a station that released a survey that Saturday – a little disappointing. Sitting at No. 1 on KEWB was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer. (I should have been more precise and noted that the KBWE survey was the only West Coast one offered at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive; our pal Yah Shure checked out oldiesloon for us and reported below.)

Our final stop this morning is KBOX in Dallas. Perched at No. 11 is “Walking Proud” by Steve Lawrence, a record that sounds very much different than I expected. I anticipated sweet Fifties-style pop and got a record that sounds, actually, very rocking for 1963. Given the sound, it wouldn’t surprise me if the famed Wrecking Crew backed Lawrence on the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song. The No. 16 record at KBOX that week was Chubby Checker’s dance song “Loddy Lo,” which showed up over the years, perhaps on vinyl but often as a sing-along, at many, many parties. And the No. 1 record at KBOX in that week fifty years ago was Tommy Roe’s “Everybody.”

So, where do we turn on this Saturday morning? I’m very tempted by “Walking Proud” simply because of the backing. But Lawrence’s voice doesn’t quite work with the backing; there’s a mismatch there. And then, there’s the Roe single. I’m not helped by the fact that, with rare exception, anything I know about Top 40 prior to the Beatles – including a lot of Roe’s records – has been learned long after the fact. Tommy Roe, to the listener portion of me (as opposed to the historian) is the guy who did “Sweet Pea” and “Hooray for Hazel,” both of which I dislike. (On “Dizzy,” I am neutral.)

But “Everybody” is so good that I have to set aside what I hear as his later missteps. Tommy Roe’s “Everybody,” which went to No. 3, is today’s Saturday Single.

‘A Restless Wind . . .’

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

While I was multitasking the other evening – checking out Facebook, listening to music and keeping half an eye on a football game – the RealPlayer selected from its 70,001 mp3s a track I hadn’t heard for a long, long time: “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, a record that spent eight weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1956.

It was the second hit in the career of the woman who began life as Myrtle Arinsberg and went through several name changes before an A&R man from RCA named her Gogi Grant, if I’m reading things right in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Grant first reached the Top Ten in late 1955, when “Suddenly There’s A Valley” went to No. 9. I’d never heard “Valley” until this morning, and my sense is that it’s just standard mid-1950s pop.

Grant’s take on “The Wayward Wind,” however, is a sweeping and dramatic record, and I got to wondering how the song – written by Stan Lebowsky and Herb Newman – fared in the hands of folks who covered it. So I went digging. There are twenty-one other versions of the song listed at Second Hand Songs  and numerous other versions listed at Wikipedia and at All Music Guide. Two covers made the Billboard pop chart: a version by Tex Ritter entered the chart about two months after Grant’s did and climbed to No. 28, and in 1961, a cover by Frank Ifield bubbled under at No. 103. (Grant’s version was re-released in 1961 and went to No. 50.)

In the five years between the Ritter and Ifield covers, there were plenty of folks who took a stab at “The Wayward Wind.” Among those listed were Jimmy Young, Shirley Bassey, Gene Vincent, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, rockabilly singer Carl Mann, the Everly Brothers, Pat Boone, Eddy Arnold and Rikki Henderson. The most interesting of those might be the 1961 cover by the Everly Brothers, just for their well-known close harmony. The quasi-rockabilly take from 1960 by Carl Mann (almost certainly recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis) has its moments, and I also like 1963’s bare bones country version from Eddy Arnold. But too many of those early covers try to replicate the epic (in the original sense of the word) sound of Grant’s original.

It’s also mildly interesting to check the lyrical approach: Grant sang the song in third person, about the man who wandered. Mann gender-flips, singing about the girl who wandered. The Everlys sing the song in the first person, as do Ritter, Ifield and Arnold.

After Ifield’s version bubbled under in 1963, covers came from the Browns, Hank Snow, Mary McCaslin, Connie Smith, Connie Francis, Crystal Gayle, and in 1985, from Neil Young with Denise Draper, a countryish version that leads off his Old Ways album. Since then, the various lists include versions by the Lazy Cowgirls, Lynn Anderson, Anne Murray, Logan Wells, Barbara Mandrell & Friends and Carol Noonan.

Even combining the three lists doesn’t provide a comprehensive account. I found versions as well by Slim Whitman and Frankie Laine, and a version that I like a lot that paired 1980s country singer Sylvia Hutton with flautist James Galway for the title track of Galway’s 1982 album, The Wayward Wind.

Andy Hilger, 1930-2013

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

St. Cloud radio man – and so much more – Andy Hilger passed away Sunday. When I was growing up, I’d hear his editorials on WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house. But even when I got to know a few people in St. Cloud’s radio community during college, I never knew Andy Hilger. Faithful reader and friend Yah Shure did, however, and he was kind enough to craft a remembrance:

Andy Hilger dropped by a small, 250-watt radio station in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on his way through town in 1958 and asked if there were any job opportunities. By the time he’d sold 1000-watt WJON and its more-powerful sister stations in 1999, they were worth nearly thirteen million dollars. I still have a copy of the 1980 or ’81 front page St. Cloud Daily Times story in which Andy was named the most influential person in the community. It was not an exaggeration. My former WJON co-worker Jim and I were astonished to read things about Andy’s pre-St. Cloud life in his obituary that we’d never known about. It doesn’t seem fair that Alzheimer’s should have ended such a remarkable run for such a remarkable man.

By the time I first got a foot in the door as a salesman (thank you, Marsh), Andy had transitioned out of some of the day-to-day operations of his WJON/WWJO radio stations. Direct selling was not my strong suit, and after two months, I’d come to a crossroads regarding my future at the place. As I departed a meeting with the stations’ two sales managers, I was met in the hallway by Tom Kay, WJON’s program director. He asked me how the meeting had gone, then beckoned me into his office. Tom was in the process of creating another airshift and strongly encouraged me to apply for the position, which I did. Tom didn’t mention this to me until much later, but when he ran the candidates for the position past the station higher-ups, Andy was of the opinion that if I couldn’t cut it as a salesman, he wasn’t at all convinced that I could cut it on the other side of the glass. Having already been familiar with my college radio background, Tom was able to convince Andy otherwise. While it wasn’t uncommon for former air talent to move into sales, no one at WJON had ever previously chosen the opposite path.

WJON was something of a family operation. Andy’s wife Carol handled the payroll, and the Hilger children were sometimes underfoot. Several staffers happened to be in the lobby when daughter Mollie, who was maybe six or seven years old at the time, was running her toy vacuum cleaner over the carpet. During a lull in the conversation, Mollie blurted out, “My daddy’s going to sell this place!” You could have heard a pin drop. Kids really do say the darndest things.

By 1979, Andy was in the process of building a new house for the Hilger family. WJON had a Heathkit weather station in the on-air studio, so that current weather conditions could be tracked after the St. Cloud National Weather Service office shut down each day at 5 p.m. The temperature sensor for the WJON weather station was housed in a small structure with a shingled top and louvered sides, mounted on a short pole in the yard behind the since-demolished old cinderblock studio/office building on Lincoln Avenue Southeast. A buried wire connected the sensor to the Heathkit unit inside the studio.

One day, the temperature readings on the Heathkit went completely haywire, and after some investigation, it was discovered that the louvered structure had been stolen, lock, stock and broken wire. Morning man Galen Johnson was outraged at the mere thought that some lowlife vandal would abscond with the station’s valuable weather instruments as he speculated on-air about who the perpetrator might have been. This went on for several days before the controversy ended as quickly as it had begun. It seems that Andy had thought the structure was actually a birdhouse, and he’d taken it upon himself to transplant it to the new Hilger residence without consulting anyone. His rather sheepish admission of guilt ended the mystery on a typically quiet note.

Andy was a man whose Christian roots and conservative leanings were as deeply embedded in the community as the city’s namesake granite deposits. Although he tended to maintain a general hands-off approach to the music and personality aspects of WJON’s full-service programming, there were times when he did object if he felt things contradicted his beliefs. When a prominent station client threatened to pull advertising from the station, the Edict of Sister Mary Elephant was handed down, barring further play of the Cheech & Chong novelty hit with the screaming nun. Likewise, Billy Joel’s chart-climber “Only The Good Die Young” was quickly scuttled from the WJON playlist after Andy determined the song’s “Catholic girls start much too late” line was one toke over the line for such a Catholic-dominated community. Only Casey Kasem was allowed to override the ban whenever the song appeared on the weekly American Top 40 countdown show.

From very early on, Andy became very active in the St. Cloud community, as did his WJON, which cemented a tight bond between the listeners and “their” station. Ironically, Andy’s hands-off approach to programming meant that he also didn’t go out of his way to get to know his own airstaff very well. One-on-one face time with Andy was relegated to once per year. As the spearhead of the area’s annual United Way drive, Andy would have the station’s receptionist call each of us at home, telling us when to see Andy in his office to discuss our annual “contribution.” Had Andy taken the incentive to sit down and chat at other times, the airstaff might not have been left harboring a bitter aftertaste toward the United Way.

Andy discovered that the ideal way to tout his views were through daily station editorials. These usually tackled local political and community issues, with equal time always provided for opposing opinions. If nothing else, Andy was a fair man, and his reasoning was well-thought out. However, on one winter’s day in early 1981, Andy dropped the ball.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, the Minneapolis Tribune had run a story about the Kingsmen’s 1963 hit, “Louie, Louie,” rehashing the controversy over the song’s allegedly dirty lyrics that had arisen when the song was a hit. Back in 1963, my mother had sat down with me after I’d bought the single, and after playing it all four speeds, gave the record a clean bill of health. (There have since been those who claim that the drummer uttered an obscenity after having dropped a stick. My own take is that they would have stopped the tape at that point if he had. In any event, it wouldn’t have been part of the song’s lyrics.) The Tribune article also printed the complete lyrics to the song as originally written by Richard Berry, which was the first time I’d actually read them. All those garbled words really added up to a Jamaican love song? Who knew?

Not Andy Hilger, apparently. When I heard his WJON editorial run one morning a few weeks later, he’d climbed high on his soapbox, denouncing the record as unfit for human consumption. But Andy never did bring up any of the actual lyrics to prove his case. He was simply restating the hearsay stemming from the 1963 controversy.

When my nightly oldies show began following the station’s ten o’clock news that evening, I let fly the first record I’d cued up: Wand Records single 143. “Dooo-do-do-do. Do-do. Do-do-do. Do-do . . .” Two minutes and forty seconds later, I recited the newspaper article’s printed words to “Louie, Louie,” then went on with the show. I never heard one word about it. Ever since then, whenever I hear the Kingsmen start to play, I’m reminded that my little act of rebelliousness was nothing more than helping to keep a fair man fair.

Here’s a link to the St. Cloud Times’ coverage of Andy Hilger’s passing.

Incorrect date changed since first posting.