Posts Tagged ‘Allman Brothers Band’

Gregg Allman, 1947-2017

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

I can’t tell you when I first noticed Gregg Allman’s voice, but I know where I was.

That first moment might have been during the autumn of 1973, but it more likely was early the next year. Either way, it happened in the lounge of the Pro Pace youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark. Among the small collection of cassette tapes we St. Cloud State students had pooled in the lounge were the Allman Brothers Band’s Eat A Peach and Brothers & Sisters, as well as the first Duane Allman anthology, which had on its fourth side a few other tracks from the band.

The lounge was the epicenter of life for those of us living at the hostel – a group I joined in late January 1974 after living for about five months with a Danish family – and music from the tape player was one of the constants of time in the lounge. And although I no doubt heard one of the tracks by the Allman Brothers during my brief visits to the hostel in the months before I moved there, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t until I took up residence there that I sat still in the lounge long enough to truly listen to Gregg Allman’s voice in front of the band he and his late brother had assembled.

This matters of course, because Gregg Allman died last Saturday in Savannah, Georgia, from liver cancer. To music fans, his tale is familiar: The Florida childhood, the early recordings with his brother, Duane, as record companies tried to shoehorn the brothers’ talents into boxes, the formation of the Allman Brothers Band and the world success that followed, then addiction, pain, missteps both personal and professional, the resurrection of the ABB (albeit without his late brother and the also deceased original bassist Berry Oakley, and later, original guitarist Dickey Betts), illness and so much more, right to the end.

If anyone wants to write a Southern gothic rock opera, the story is there for the taking.

As interesting as the story is, I’ll leave it to others; here’s Rolling Stone’s piece on Allman’s death and life. To me, what mattered was the music, especially those albums I heard in Denmark and acquired soon after I came home, those and the other early works I soon collected as well. The music I’d heard in the lounge, I knew – and still know – note for note, having been immersed in it nearly every evening for something more than two months. The stuff that was new to me – most of the group’s self-titled 1969 debut, 1970’s Idlewild South and the 1971 Fillmore East album – took longer to work its way into me but it did so eventually. And I have some of Allman’s work – both with the ABB and as a solo artist – from the later years into the 1990s, as well, although I don’t know that music as well.

So, like much of the music I listened during the years from, oh, 1969 into 1975, the Allman Brothers Band’s early work, with Allman’s voice, gruff, bluesy and tender by turns, leading the way, is part of my foundation.

Still, I try not to let the music I love get trapped in time, to let it belong only to one year, one decade, one moment. That’s hard for any music lover, I think, but it seems especially hard for me, given my fascination with how music and memory entwine. I don’t think that Gregg Allman’s work – as the voice of the ABB and on his own – is frozen like that for me, locked in the Pro Pace lounge. “Dreams,” from The Allman Brothers Band, popped up on a CD in the car the other day, and as I drove, I was listening to a song that mattered right then, not just to a memory. I thought about that as I drove and listened, and I was pleased.

And “Dreams,” from 1969, seems to be a good place to close this awkward appreciation of Gregg Allman.

‘West’

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Today, finally, we go west, sorting through the digital shelves for four tracks that use the word “west” in their titles.

Sorting in the RealPlayer for the word, we get 613 tracks, but as I suspected, we have some winnowing to do. Numerous tracks have been labeled “West Coast” in the genre slot, and they fall by the wayside, Jackson Browne’s For Everyman, the City’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, and Walter Eagan’s Not Shy among them. Anything titled or tagged as having been recorded at the Fillmore West will be ignored, as will numerous blues joints that came out of West Helena, Arkansas (many of them by Howlin’ Wolf).

Most of Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won is lost, as are Ray Charles’ two volumes from 1962 of Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. The same holds for anything by Cashman & West (with and without Pistilli), and for a group called West, which gets double-docked for its 1968 self-titled album.

We also throw out the fight song from Western Illinois University, and numerous singles, starting with those on the Westbound and EastWest labels. Among the lost singles are “Linda’s Gone” by the West Coast Branch, “Fairchild” by Willie West, “Rave On” by Sonny West, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan, “Tennessee Toddy” by Billy Gray & His Western Okies, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” by Kim Weston, “500 Miles” by Hedy West, “Take What You Want” by West Point, and “The Ballad Of Paladin” by Johnny Western.

Still, we have enough to work with.

Trying to tap into the spirit of the music they’d made a decade earlier, the Allman Brothers Band offered “From The Madness Of The West” on its 1980 album Reach For The Sky. In its six-plus minutes, the jam gave the listener the expected: parallel guitar lines playing arching melodies, a percussion solo, modal progressions and a technically precise guitar solo. What it could not offer, of course, were those people and things the Allman Brothers Band lost along the way: the departed Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the bypassed Jaimoe, and the ability to do things no other band could. “From The Madness Of The West” is decent listening but no more than that. If you let it roll by in the background without thinking about it, it’s pleasant music, but when you stop to think about the arc of the Allman Brothers Band, the track – and in fact all of Reach For The Sky – feels like the part in a novel where you pause and wonder if in fact there can be any revival.

In 1987, when the Grateful Dead released the album In The Dark and pulled from the album the single “Touch Of Grey,” I wonder if Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were baffled by the result. The album went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the Hot 100. The group had reached the Top 20 of the album chart a few times before – Blues For Allah had done the best, going to No. 12 in 1975 – but never before had a Dead single hit the Top 40, much less the Top Ten. The group’s highest charting single before “Touch Of Grey” had been 1971’s “Truckin’,” which topped off at No. 64. As it happened, the Dead’s burst of popularity coincided with the rebirth of my interest in buying tunes, and In The Dark became the first Grateful Dead album on my shelves. And one of my favorite tracks from the album – “West L.A. Fadeaway” – qualifies for today’s exercise, bringing along a blues verse that more often than not makes me chuckle: “I met an old mistake walkin’ down the street today/I didn’t wanna be mean about it, but I didn’t have one good word to say.”

With a spare accompaniment – guitars and few strings – Nanci Griffith sings:

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

I remember times
When you’d weathered out my mind
But you always had a peaceful word to say
And you could always bring a smile
With the mischief in your eyes
Still, I’m glad the miles keep me separate from your games

You know you’re still as wild
As those old west Texas plains
Standing by the highway do you still call my name?
Lord, I can’t believe it’s been such a long, long time
Since I’ve seen that Texas boy smile

Well, I’ll be heading out of town
I may stop by next time around
Hell, it’s raining, but at least that’s something real
I came shackled down with fears
About our dreams and wasted years
And now I know exactly how to feel

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

The track is “West Texas Sun” from Griffith’s first album, the 1978 release There’s A Light Beyond These Woods. As one might expect for a first album, it’s a little tentative; the confident story-teller that I discovered in the early 1990s has yet to show up. (I think of “Love at the Five & Dime” from The Last of the True Believers in 1986 and “Trouble In The Fields” from Lone Star State Of Mind a year later, just to highlight two great songs that came along very soon.) But even early Griffith is worth a stop this morning.

And we close this morning with a recent version of a song that’s been around for nearly ninety years: “West End Blues.” Written by Clarence Williams and King Oliver and first recorded in 1928 by King Oliver & His Dixie Syncopators, “West End Blues” was one of the tunes that New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint selected for his 2009 album The Bright Mississippi. In his review of the album at AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that “although straight-out jazz is uncommon in Toussaint’s work, this neither feels unfamiliar or like a stretch,” adding, “Upon the first listen, The Bright Mississippi merely seems like a joyous good time, but subsequent spins focus attention on just how rich and multi-layered this wonderful music is.” As I listened to the most recent cover of “West End Blues,” I noted that the digital shelves also hold a copy of one of the earliest covers of the song: A 1928 release by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five.

What Was I Listening To?

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

A couple of things this week made me sit back and wonder: What the hell was I listening to in the late summer of 1975?

Numerous news and entertainment outlets made an appropriately big deal Tuesday about the fortieth anniversary of the release of Bruce Springsteen’s album Born To Run, with most of those outlets noting that the 1975 album – Springsteen’s third – resuscitated his career, which was in question after the first two albums had been received relatively well by critics but weren’t all that successful at the sales counter. The pieces generally went on to note Springsteen’s appearance during the same week that October on the covers of both Time and Newsweek and to highlight Springsteen’s lengthy and stellar career since then.

And back then, I missed it.

I was aware of the hubbub. We got Time magazine at home, and I read Newsweek at the St. Cloud State library every week. And I imagine I heard “Born To Run” somewhere – in my car, on the jukebox at Atwood Center, in someone’s apartment – after it was released as a single. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 on September 20 and went to No. 23. But if I heard it, it didn’t register. As to the album, it entered the Billboard 200 on September 13 and was on the chart for 110 weeks, peaking at No. 2. I don’t recall hearing it anywhere that autumn (or any other time, as far as that goes, until I got my own copy in 1988).

So it was with a good dose of interest Tuesday that I read “Asbury Park, 854 Miles That Way” at the blog AM, Then FM, where my Green Bay-based friend Jeff has his shop. He notes that Springsteen’s never been a huge part of his listening life, not in 1975 and not now: “Many of my friends are Springsteen fans, and I understand and appreciate their passion for The Boss. I just don’t share it, at least not with that intensity.”

Thinking to myself that I now have that passion – as is obvious, I’m certain, to any regular visitor to this blog – I thought back to the late summer and autumn of 1975 and wondered what I was listening to. As I wondered, I clicked my way to the post “Last Days” at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and read my pal jb’s offering of the highlights of the radio show American Top 40 from August 23, 1975.

Of the twelve records jb highlighted from the lower portion – up to No. 20 – of that long-ago show (he’ll tackle the upper part in a post to come), I remembered hearing seven back in 1975. Of the remaining five, I’ve become acquainted with three over the past forty years. Based on the Billboard Hot 100 in my files, the records from Nos. 1 to 19 will be more familiar, but they’re still not as innately familiar as similarly ranked records from four or five years earlier would have been. Except for brief interludes in my car and the time I spent at The Table in Atwood, I wasn’t listening to Top 40. (And I find myself wondering: Would the jukebox at Atwood have been programmed with something other than a straight Top 40 mix? Dunno.)

So what was I listening to at home? Well, here are the albums I’d added to my box in the basement in the previous twelve months:

Duane Allman: An Anthology
Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers Band
Life & Times by Jim Croce
Greatest Hits by the Association
2 Years On by the Bee Gees
Odessa by the Bee Gees
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Sounds Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel
Ndeda by Quincy Jones
Four Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Dreamspeaker by Tim Weisberg
Songs For Beginners by Graham Nash
Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison
Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd
Just An Old Fashioned Love Song by Paul Williams
Ringo by Ringo Starr
Mad Dogs & Englishmen by Joe Cocker

Some of those – from the Association through the CSN&Y album – came from Rick when he was clearing stuff from his shelves and I was homebound in November 1974, and out of those, the only ones that would still have been getting much play in the late summer of 1975 would have been the Bee Gees records. Even accounting for that, it’s an interesting mix.

As far as radio listening at home, I don’t recall at all what I was tuned to, maybe WCCO-FM, which would have been playing a format called Adult Album Alternative, if I read the history correctly. That would have suited me.

So what does all this mean? I’m not entirely sure. When the anniversary of Born To Run was being noted Tuesday, I found myself wishing – not for the first time – that I’d bought the album back in 1975 instead of waiting until the late 1980s to finally listen to and embrace the music of Bruce Springsteen. But we find what we find when we need it, and I think I’m finally learning that holding onto regrets over things undone – whether large or small (and not hearing Born To Run in 1975 is one of the small ones) – is a waste of precious time.

Here’s a track that fits that thought perfectly, and it’s one that I would have heard on my basement stereo during the summer and autumn of 1975: From 1972’s Eat A Peach, here’s the Allman Brothers Band and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.”

List of albums amended November 27, 2015.

Saturday Single No. 377

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Back in 2007, I spent the month of January ripping lots of vinyl to mp3s with my new turntable, a Christmas present from the Texas Gal. At her suggestion, I opened a Blogger account and started sharing the resulting album rips at a blog I called Echoes In The Wind.

It wasn’t much of a blog. Oh, the music was fine: In the first few weeks I shared four albums by Bobby Whitlock and four by Levon Helm, none of them in print at the time, and I got around that month to work by Don Nix, Eric Andersen and a few others.

But I wasn’t saying anything beyond a few general comments. I began to pull reviews of the albums, when they were available, from All Music Guide (always being careful to credit the source). As the end of January came in sight, I wrote a little bit more than that about a couple of Ronnie Hawkins albums, and then, on the first Saturday of February 2007, I wrote a bit about what the Danish single “Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne meant to me.

At about the same time, I chanced upon a blog whose writer talked about music and memory and how the two were for him forever entwined. And as I dug into the blog archives at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I thought, “I can do this. Maybe not as well, but I can do this.” (Not long after that, I left a note at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, inviting the blog’s author, jb, to stop by my place. He did, and in the intervening years he and I and our wives have become good friends.)

So I began to write about my life and music and memory during that first week of February 2007. I’ve told how music has pervaded my life, whether that music be the horn work of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, the soundtracks of John Barry, the still-cherished sounds of the Beatles and Bob Dylan; the later-discovered artistry of Duane Allman, Richie Havens and Bruce Springsteen; or the earthiness and odd dissonance of Bulgarian folk music; and so much more in between and around those sounds.

I’ve told the tales of my life, sharing in memory and in the present the joyful moments, the grief-laden moments and the ordinary moments, writing – as my friend Rob once agreed – my autobiography, one post at a time.

And along the way, I’ve found friends. Many of them remain known only through their comments here and their profile pictures at Facebook. But some – most notably jb and his Mrs.; Jeff of AM, Then FM; and frequent commenter Yah Shure – have become friends in that scary place beyond blogging called the real world.

All of that will continue. I think I have tales yet to tell, and I know there is still music both familiar and new to write about. But today, which is more or less the seventh anniversary of the true beginning of this blog, is a day to look back and think, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

And this morning I read the words to “Seven Turns,” the title track to a 1990 album by the Allman Brothers Band, and thought again, “Not bad at all.”

Seven turns on the highway,
Seven rivers to cross.
Sometimes you feel like you could fly away,
Sometimes you get lost.

And sometimes, in the darkened night,
You see the crossroad sign.
One way is the mornin’ light,
You got to make up your mind.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waiting for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

Runnin’ wild out on the road,
Just like a leaf on the wind.
How in the world could you ever know,
We’d ever meet again?

Seven turns on the highway,
Seven rivers to cross.
Sometimes, you feel like you could fly away,
Sometimes, you get lost.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waitin’ for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waitin’ for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

So here is “Seven Turns” by the Allman Brothers Band, and it’s your seventh-anniversary Saturday Single:

‘There’s A Man Down There . . .’

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Well, you got me stranded, baby, on the second floor.
You keep tellin’ me, baby, I got to walk out that door.
Uh-uh, baby! Girl, I ain’t walkin’ out that door.
’Cause there’s a man down there, maybe your man. I don’t know.

So sang G.L. Crockett on the record that was bubbling under at No. 130 on the Billboard Hot 100 forty-seven years ago today. Crockett’s 1965 single – on the 4 Brothers label – had been bubbling at No. 111 a week earlier in its first appearance on the chart. It would eventually rise to No. 65 (and to No. 10 on the R&B chart), making Crockett a one-hit wonder on both charts.

So who was G.L. Crockett? Joel Whitburn says in Top Pop Singles that he was born George Crockett in 1928 in Carrollton, Mississippi, and he passed on in 1967. Wikipedia adds that he was also known as G. “Davy” Crockett and that he passed on in Chicago. There’s more information in a biographical sketch at Black Cat Rockabilly Europe, and a couple of his records show up occasionally in anthologies. (Interestingly, even though Crockett is tabbed as a blues singer, an alternate take of his first single, “Look Out Mabel,” recorded in 1957, showed up in the rockabilly series That’ll Flat Git It.)

But if Crockett is less than well-known, the song is not. Most folks my age likely know the tune from the incendiary live version by the Allman Brothers Band called “One Way Out” and found on the 1972 album Eat A Peach. The song began its malleable life, however, as a rollicking tune from the pen of Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Miller) under the title of “One Way Out.” Here’s his 1961 version, released on Checker.

Wikipedia notes, “As with many blues songs, the history of ‘One Way Out’ falls into murk.” From digging through websites and files this morning, it seems that although Williamson wrote the song, he was not the first to record it. Elmore James got hold of “One Way Out” and smoothed some rough edges when he recorded it (likely for either the Fire or Fury label) in New York City in late 1960 or early 1961, according to Wikipedia. At the same time, James and Marshall E. Sehorn (perhaps the session’s producer?) claimed writing credit, an act of appropriation that was common at the time. James’ version of the tune, however, wasn’t released until 1964, when it was used as a B-Side for a single on the Sphere Sound label.

And in 1965, when Crockett’s sly adaptation of the song came out on the 4 Brothers label, he and producer Jack Daniels, in their turn, claimed writing credit. Most sources these days properly credit Williamson (which carries with it some irony, as Williamson, of course, famously appropriated the name of another famous harp-playing bluesman for his own).

From there, the song went on to become a standard of the Allman Brothers Band and to be covered by numerous other bands and performers. The website Second Hand Songs lists sixteen versions altogether (though I suspect there are far more), with the most recent being versions by the San Francisco band Tip of the Top in 2011, by New England blues singer Perry Desmond-Davies in 2009 and by Styx on its 2005 album of covers, Big Bang Theory.

There were, however, a few stops along the way from Crockett to the Allmans. Crockett’s version – frequently said to have been performed in the style of Jimmy Reed – sparked Reed to record “I’m The Man Down There” on Vee-Jay. And Prez Kenneth, about whom I can find little online, recorded “I Am the Man Downstairs” for the Biscayne label.

Finally, Doug Sahm – Texas musician, musicologist and the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet – released “It’s a Man Down There” on the Tear Drop label in 1966 under the name of Him.

But no matter who sings it or how it’s sung, the dilemma remains:

Uh-uh, baby. Hell, I ain’t goin’ out that door.
There’s a man down there, maybe your man. How do I know?

Nine Out Of Ten

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten album chart from May 6, 1972, forty years ago this week:

First Take by Roberta Flack
Harvest by Neil Young
America by America
Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers Band
Fragile by Yes
Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Smokin’ by Humble Pie
Nilsson Schmilsson by Nilsson
Tapestry by Carole King
Graham Nash/David Crosby by Graham Nash & David Crosby

All but one of those albums now sit in my LP stacks (and a couple are replicated on CD). The only one of those albums that I’ve never owned is the Humble Pie effort. During the mid-1990s era of vinyl expansion, I evidently relied on the 1979/1983 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, which pretty much said that the essential Humble Pie albums were the group’s first two – As Safe As Yesterday Is and Town and Country, both from 1969 – and a live collection. I got the first two, passed on the live collection and gave no thought to Smokin’.

I thus managed to evidently never hear “Hot ’N’ Nasty,” the one single from the album that reached the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 52). This morning, that doesn’t bother me, as from the vantage point of forty years, “Hot ’N’ Nasty” seems to be nothing close to nasty and not particularly hot at all. It’s a decent piece of early Seventies boogie, and hearing it leaves me no more tempted to find the album, which peaked at No. 6, than I was an hour ago.

At least two of the other albums on that Top Ten list from forty years ago, however, would be on any list I put together of essential pop/rock albums, and three others, if they happened not to make that list, would come close. I wrote extensively about one of those essential albums, Tapestry, a year ago, so we’ll let that one go by today. The other essential album on that list, to my ears, is Eat A Peach, which includes the last material recorded by Duane Allman before his death in October 1971 as well as material recorded after that by his surviving band-mates. The album – which peaked at No. 4 – is probably best remembered for the live thirty-three minute “Mountain Jam” that was based on a theme from Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain” and took up two of the four sides of the double-LP package.

(A couple of ABB-related things: This past weekend, I read an excerpt from Gregg Allman’s new memoir, My Cross To Bear, in the current edition of Rolling Stone. The excerpt was revealing – perhaps too revealing at moments – and reflective, and it made me want to read the entire book. And as I researched this piece this morning, I finally learned at Wikipedia why the album was called Eat A Peach: “[T]he album name came from something Duane said in an interview shortly before he was killed. When asked what he was doing to help the revolution, Duane replied, ‘There ain’t no revolution, it’s evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.’”)

The three other albums from that very good Top Ten list that would at least come close to any list I might make of essential albums are those by Neil Young, Paul Simon and the duo of Graham Nash and David Crosby. That last is likely a surprise entrant, but when I sort through the solo and duet records made by the various combinations of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Graham Nash/David Crosby sits near the top of the list just behind Stephen Stills and just ahead of Young’s Harvest and Comes A Time.

So what it is about Graham Nash/David Crosby that I admire? First of all, the musicianship, with Crosby and Nash joined by a cluster of players that included the recently departed Chris Etheridge on bass, Jerry Garcia on guitar and a host of recognizable studio players. Some of my regard for the album, which went to No. 4, is no doubt related to the times; the record, more than many others, reminds me of what life felt like in 1972. And then there are the songs, ranging from Crosby’s searching and inspiring “Where Will I Be/Page 43” to one of Nash’s best: “Southbound Train.”

It Can Still Make Me Smile

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

According to the eighth edition of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – which covers the years from 1955 through 2003 – the group Chicago had thirty-five Top 40 hits, with twenty of those reaching the Top Ten. According to that same volume, Chicago was the nineteenth most successful act of those years from 1955 through 2003.

(The top five? Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Elton John, Madonna and Stevie Wonder.)

My shelves are stocked with plenty of the group’s records – thirteen of them, ranging from 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority through 1982’s Chicago 16. A few of those are duplicated on CD and in the mp3 files, and a few other Chicago albums exist here only as mp3s. But I listen purposely to very little of all that music these days. If something pops up on random on the RealPlayer, that’s fine. On the rare occasion that I pop a Chicago CD into the player, it’s almost always Chicago Transit Authority or its two follow-ups, Chicago and Chicago III. And I skip a lot of the tracks on those albums.

But there was a time during the years 1970 to about 1973 when I thought that Chicago’s music was just about the best thing this side of a lobster dinner. I loved Chicago – the silver album often called “Chicago II” – and played all four sides frequently. A little later on, I bought and liked most of Chicago Transit Authority and played that one a little less often than the follow-up but still with some frequency. I did not own Chicago III, but a college pal did, and I taped his copy and enjoyed it, too.

The group performed at St. Cloud State during the spring of 1970; I got there late because of an orchestra concert, but Rick had somehow managed to save me a place. I didn’t recognize everything the guys played; I owned Chicago but I’d heard only portions of Chicago Transit Authority. Even so, it was a great show. Sometime around 10:30 or so, the band started an encore; forty-five minutes later, that encore was still underway when Rick and I had to leave to meet our parental curfews. (I was a high school junior and he was a sophomore; half past eleven was pretty late for a school night in 1970.)

That show still ranks pretty high on my list of concerts I’ve attended, probably in the top five.

And then, my fascination with Chicago went away. It took some time, of course, but I think the first blow was the release in 1971 of Chicago IV: Live at Carnegie Hall, a bloated four-record set of what to my ears were ragged and mediocre performances. (I didn’t buy it until years later; Rick bought it when it came out and we listened to it at his place, and I remember our looking at each other and shaking our heads as the shabby record played.)  Chicago V came out in 1972, and then, once a year, the group dropped another album onto the table, VI, VII and VIII into 1975. And I didn’t buy any of them. (At least not when they came out; as I said above, I have a good number of Chicago LPs, but most of those came home in the 1990s, when I was buying a lot of everything, and for the most part, they’ve stayed on the shelves after being played once.)

I heard the hits, of course: “Saturday In The Park,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “Just You ’N’ Me,” “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” and on and on. None of them grabbed me at all. I thought as I heard them that the band had lost any sense of direction beyond the goal of another Top 40 hit. The inventive arrangements, the interplay of the horns with the other instruments and with each other, the drive and fire I’d heard in the first three albums – all of that was gone. And I gave up on Chicago. I’ve listened to very little of what the group has done in the years since.

And as the band – in my eyes, anyway – got fat and happy, I occasionally thought about the pledge that the members of Chicago had made in the notes to their second album: “With this album, we dedicate ourselves, our futures and our energies to the people of the revolution . . . and the revolution in all of its forms.” I don’t know if I ever took those words seriously, but I have to assume the band did when they were printed inside the record jacket. Did the members of Chicago keep that promise? I’ve realized over the years that it’s not my place to decide, and I wonder if I would want to be called to account for promises I made when I was in my mid-twenties. But then again, I never put any of those promises on a record jacket almost certain to be seen by millions of people.

All of this may seem a bit disjointed, but I’ve never put my thoughts about Chicago into any kind of order before, and as I’ve been writing, I’ve begun to think that I may revisit the group’s output to see if it was better than I think it was. And I realize as well that my early passion for the group might have kept me from making critical judgments. I think now that those first three albums could have used an editor: Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago and Chicago III would likely have been better as single-record albums than the double albums they were. (Fodder for some posts down the road, perhaps.)

Even with all that, the band in its early years provided some transcendent moments: The first that comes to mind is the nearly side-long “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” from which were pulled the wedding standard “Colour My World” and the group’s first hit single, “Make Me Smile.” Then there’s “Beginnings,” with its glorious horns, great vocals and the long percussion fade out.

And finally, there is that first hit single, an edit of “Make Me Smile” that never fails to do just that, no matter where I am when it comes out of the speakers. When I first heard it as it headed to No. 9 during the spring of 1970, I thought to myself that I’d never heard anything like it. And forty years later, with the record as familiar as the grey in my beard, I still feel the same way.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 23
“Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King, Atco 6185 [1961]
“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127 [1970]
“Statesboro Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band from Live at Fillmore East [1971]
“Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones from Exile on Main St [1972]
“In A Daydream” by the Freddy Jones Band from Waiting For The Night [1993]
“Twilight” by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen from Ridin’ On The Blinds [1994]

Looking for a version of “Spanish Harlem” to celebrate, I imagine that lots of folks would choose Aretha Franklin’s imaginative 1971 cover, which went to No. 2. But there’s something I prefer about Ben E. King’s original, which went to No. 10 in early 1961. Maybe it’s the tropical lilt brought out by the marimba during the introduction and throughout the record, maybe it’s the baion bass provided by producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Leiber co-wrote the song with Phil Spector), maybe it’s King’s hushed, almost serene vocal, or maybe it’s the saxophone solo. Maybe it’s all of those or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it makes Spanish Harlem into a place I wish I’d seen through the eyes of all of those involved.

There’s little doubt, I would think, that the Allman Brothers Band album Live at Fillmore East is one of the greatest live albums ever, showing a ground-breaking band at the peak of its existence. (Looking at the list of the 500 greatest albums of all time published in 2003 by Rolling Stone, the only live album placed ahead of Live at Fillmore East is James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, which certainly makes sense.) And the Allmans’ opening number – presented on the album with the laconic introduction intact – was a fiery interpretation of Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” I won’t say that “Statesboro Blues” was the best performance on the album; I might give that accolade to the long versions of “Whipping Post” or “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” but it still strikes me as ballsy to open a show with a song that you’ve not already released, a song that might not be all that familiar to the audience. And then, in the terms of a jukebox, which is what we’re theoretically discussing here, “Statesboro Blues,” allows the band to put on display all its stellar attributes – a tough and supple rhythm section, superb lead guitar work, great bluesy vocals and more – in the concise running time of just more than four minutes.

Amid all the hoopla about its re-release a few weeks ago, I realized that it took me a long time to appreciate the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. I’d thought the singles, “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy” were murky and indistinct when I heard them during the spring and summer of 1972, and I thought I’d give the album a pass. A year later, a friend of mine was clearing space on his record shelves and handed me his copy of Exile. I was glad to have it, but at the time, I wouldn’t have put it on my list of essential listens. I’m not exactly sure when the album got on to that figurative list, but it was sometime during the mid-1990s when I spent a few weeks listening to Exile on Main St back-to-back-to-back with the Robert Johnson box set and some 1950s recordings by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. And the track that has always jumped up as my favorite – the first of two Rolling Stones recordings in the Ultimate Jukebox – is the cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down.” (A note on the title of the album, which I’ve long offered incorrectly as Exile on Main Street: The LP jacket has it as Exile on Main St, while my CD copy adds a period to make it Exile on Main St. Finally correcting myself this morning, I went with the original presentation from the vinyl.)

I learned about the Freddy Jones Band when the group’s music showed up from time to time during the 1990s on the Minneapolis station Cities 97. In those pre-CD player days, I found on quiet evenings that I could get lost in the band’s “In A Daydream,” which comes from the group’s 1993 album Waiting for the Night. Later on, when I picked up that CD and another by the group, I found a number of other songs that have the same effect. But “In A Daydream” remains my favorite among them and can still pull me away to somewhere else. And there are far worse ways to spend an evening.

The Band recorded at least two versions of “Twilight,” one of Robbie Robertson’s most elegiac songs in a career filled with elegies. There was the sprightly version released on the 1976 anthology Best of The Band with Rick Danko handling the lead vocal. Then there’s a slower version that opens with Levon Helm singing the chorus before Danko handles the verses; that one showed up as a bonus track on the Islands CD and might be the version released as a single on Capitol 4316. (Does anyone out there know which version was the single?) The slower take is better than the version on The Best of The Band. But it’s Danko who recorded the best available version of the song during his work in Norway with Eric Andersen and Norwegian performer Jonas Fjeld. That version, on the trio’s second CD, Ridin’ on the Blinds, is closer in tempo to the faster of the two versions by The Band, but it has a sorrowful, reflective quality that the earlier versions seem to have missed. And along with the Norwegian musicians that back the titular trio, “Twilight” also has keyboard parts supplied by Danko’s former Band-mate Garth Hudson.

(I noticed something odd while researching “Twilight” this morning. Most listings at All-Music Guide credit the piece to Robertson alone, but some links also give writing credit to Wynton Marsalis and Michael Mason. Does anyone out there know the story behind that?)

Amended slightly since first being posted.