The jukebox across the way in the Atwood Center snack bar was playing Elton John. Sitting at The Table, I heard the puzzling title phrase, “I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.”
It must have been a Monday morning in early 1976, about the time John’s record entered the Top 40. Why a Monday? Because that was the quarter when I was an intern at a Twin Cities television station, and the only times I was at The Table in Atwood that quarter was on the occasional Monday morning when I checked in with my adviser before heading back to the Twin Cities and my sports reporting work.
Anyway, I looked over at the jukebox across the way and wondered out loud, “Who’s Robert Ford?”
The answer came quickly from my friend Sam, one of whose passions was the American West. “He’s the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard,” he said.
I looked blankly at him. “Okay,” I said. “That must mean something.”
He laughed and said, “Robert Ford was the man who shot Jesse James.”
I imagine I nodded, and the conversation went elsewhere and after a while, I headed to my adviser’s office and then back to the Twin Cities. And it’s entirely possible that until I picked up Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to The Long Riders in 1989, I never heard the folk song “Jesse James,” the song that Sam quoted to me that morning. Cooder’s version – which I sadly cannot embed here – plays over the end credits of the Walter Hill movie.*
The song is an old one, written soon after James’ death in 1882 by Billy Gashade (or perhaps LaShade) and first recorded in 1920 by a typewriter salesman named Bently Ball, according to the blog Joop’s Musical Flowers. Until I ran across that citation, the earliest version I knew about – but one I’ve not heard – came from Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Digging around at YouTube in the past few weeks, I’ve found versions by the Kingston Trio from 1961, the South Memphis String Band (a group made up by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes; Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Alvin Youngblood Hart) from 2010 and Van Morrison (from a 1998 performance with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber).
(Joop’s Musical Flowers lists many more versions, some dating to 1924, and has video or audio links for some of them.)
The shelves here also include versions by Bob Seger, from his 1972 album, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and by Bruce Springsteen, from his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and from the 2007 release Live In Dublin.
All of those are worth hearing (well, I’m not sure about the Kingston Trio’s version, which is why I did not link to it), but one of the best is the version by Pete Seeger from his 1957 album, American Favorite Ballads.
* Walter Hill’s film is also notable for the casting of four sets of acting brothers – Keach, Carradine, Quaid and Guest – as, respectively, the historical brothers James, Younger, Miller and Ford.
Even as the snow came down less than ten days ago, giving us our second April snowfall of eight inches or more, the Texas Gal looked out the window and planned her gardens. Actually, her planning for the coming summer’s gardens began last fall. “I think,” she said in November, “we’ll do fewer tomatoes and more potatoes next summer, and we won’t bother with the corn.”
Or she might have said more tomatoes and no green beans, or another try at wax beans and fewer yellow squash, or no eggplant and more carrots. As the winter wore on, she juggled ideas for the coming summer’s gardens, looking past the snowdrifts and the icicles to see black dirt, green leaves and sunshine. And now, with the yard and the two gardens finally (we hope) clear of snow, the serious planning can start.
So this morning, we made our first trip to the big box store where we’ve stocked up in other years on plants, seeds, gardening tools and other goods. Among the items on today’s list were lumber, fence posts and chicken wire. Why? Well, last year, the gardener next to us in the community plot built an L-shaped frame about four feet tall and eight feet long on each leg. She then nailed chicken wire to the frame, and it became home to her cucumbers.
We could easily see that it saved space in the garden – cucumbers tend to wander out of the lines into the areas where other plants already reside – and it made picking the cucumbers much easier. “I want one of those,” the Texas Gal told me over the winter. “Can you make one?”
I looked at the frame and nodded slowly. I easily envisioned a basic design in my head, and from that, I calculated the necessary materials and their quantities. “I think so,” I said.
And I still think so, but today is the day that thought becomes action. We brought home from the big box some eight-foot long two-by-twos, three metal fence posts and a fifty-foot roll of chicken wire, as well as a box of three-inch nails and one of U-shaped staples. So as soon as I finish here, I’ll pull four of the two-by-twos into the basement, where they have a date with the sabre saw that came to me from my father’s workshop.
And then I’ll head outside and, with assistance from the Texas Gal, put together a cucumber frame.
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I have very little experience building things, even something as simple as a cucumber frame. Years ago, I built a rough bookcase and equally rough bookshelf. Those went well, as did the construction around the same time of a wooden platform for a metal storage shed.
But that was a long time ago. Any skills I sharpened during those projects have long since dulled. I know it’s only a cucumber frame, and I know that aesthetic considerations are way down on the list of needs to satisfy during its building. But I want to do it well, and I am uncertain I can.
I’ll find out shortly. Before that, however, here’s the only song that fits here today, Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter.” This is Bob Seger’s version from his 1972 album of covers, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
The tale of the jukebox in the Multi-Purpose Room at St. Cloud Tech in the autumn of 1970 was told here once before: In a time when school schedules were becoming more flexible, the former cold lunch room was renamed, and in an effort to make it more attractive to students for those times when their classes were not meeting, the administration installed a jukebox.
That was a move that I think the authorities eventually regretted, certainly by the second time Dawn’s No. 1 hit “Knock Three Times” drew the attention of some student’s quarter late in the autumn. When Tony Orlando and his crew told us to “knock three times,” feet stomped on the floor and books slammed on the table. “Twice on the pipe” drew the same reaction.
Not all songs – or very many – created the aural chaos that Dawn’s second hit did. (“Candida” had come around earlier.) But the jukebox made the Multi-Purpose room, obviously, much louder than it had been during its service as a lunchroom. I give that long-gone administration credit for simply closing the doors and letting the music roll. And I wonder if any members of that administration had second thoughts the following spring when various news agencies reported that some radio stations across the U.S. were removing from their playlists – because of its seeming drug references – the Brewer & Shipley hit “One Toke Over The Line.”
The record was popular down in the Multi-Purpose Room that spring, maybe as much because of its buoyant country rock arrangement as its winking and chuckling “toke” reference. As we listened, we often wondered how Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley thought they could get away with it, and we marveled at the fact that – for the most part – they had: The record went to No. 10 in the spring of 1971. And we marveled as well that no one from the Tech administration seemed inclined to call the juke box jobber and demand that the record be pulled from the machine.
The record, as it turned out, was one of those happy accidents that seem to wait to happen. Two quotes from a page about the record at the Brewer & Shipley website make that clear:
Michael Brewer: ‘We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We played there a lot. We were real bored, sitting in the dressing room. We were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, ‘Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.’ I liked the way that sounded and so I wrote a song around it. We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, ‘What was that we were messing with last night?’ We remembered it, and in about an hour, we’d written ‘One Toke Over the Line.’ Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us.”
Tom Shipley: “‘One Toke’ wasn’t meant to make it to record. We were opening for Melanie at Carnegie Hall, and we played two encores. We really didn’t have anything else to sing to them. So we played ‘One Toke,’’ and the audience gave us a standing ovation. The record company president was there, and he said ‘Record it!’”
On the same page at the website, Brewer goes on to note: “The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, named us personally as a subversive to American youth, but at exactly the same time Lawrence Welk performed the crazy thing . . . That shows how absurd it really is. Of course, we got more publicity than we could have paid for.”
For all of that, and for the fact that just hearing the introduction still brings a smile to my face, “One Toke Over The Line” has a spot in the Ultimate Jukebox.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 13
“Dirty Water” by the Standells, Tower 185 
“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic 10555 
“One Toke Over The Line” by Brewer & Shipley, Kama Sutra 516 
“How Long” by Ace, Anchor 21000 
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 
“(I’ve Had The) Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes, RCA 5224 
“Dirty Water” is, of course, a crunchy piece of great garage rock celebrating Boston as the home of lovers, muggers, thieves and those mysterious – to the twelve-year-old whiteray during the summer of 1966 – “frustrated women.” The record went to No. 11 during that summer forty-four years ago, and that single guitar introduction – with the fellows lip-synching here – still grabs hold of a listener and says, “Pay attention! We’re talking about Boston here!”
Having first heard Sly & the Family Stone as the group behind the frenetic “Dance To The Music,” the winking “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and the funky “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” I wasn’t prepared in the autumn of 1970 when I heard the B-Side of that last record on WJON one evening. Sweet, melodic, a little bittersweet and even a little inspirational, “Everybody Is A Star” wasn’t something I would have expected from Sly Stewart and his pals. The record got airplay as the flipside of the No. 1 hit “Thank You,” although the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits doesn’t give it a ranking of its own. In my own book, though, sweet often outranks funky (not always, but often enough that I recognize the pattern), and “Everybody Is A Star” thus finds its place in the Ultimate Jukebox.
The pulsing bass introduction that kicks off Ace’s “How Long” sounds more foreboding than the song actually is, although a tune in which the narrator quizzes his gal on her infidelity isn’t going to be a chorus of hoots and giggles. The record – which went to No. 3 in the spring of 1975 – was the only hit for the group from Sheffield, England, although the group’s lead singer, Paul Carrack, later reached the charts four times in the 1980s as a member of Mike & The Mechanics. (Ignore, if you can, the video’s picture of Ace Frehley of Kiss.)
I spent a few days the other week reading Late Edition: A Love Story, Bob Greene’s Valentine and eulogy to the newspaper business, framed through his work during his mid-1960s high school and college years for two newspapers in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It’s a good read, and I might write about the book itself one of these days, but what made it come to mind this morning was Greene’s tale about a nightspot where he and his pals would sometimes stop. A band of scuffling folks about the same age regularly came down from Detroit to play there, and Greene notes that when the band took its breaks, he often had a chance to talk to the band’s lead singer, a young Bob Seger. The odds of either one of them making it big in their chosen professions were so slender, and Greene’s tale makes me wonder about the odds of both of them succeeding to the degrees they have. “Mainstreet” is the second Seger selection in these lists – after “Night Moves” – and to my ears is the better record, although “Night Moves” packs a stronger emotional wallop. “Mainstreet” also came from the 1976 album Night Moves, and it went to No. 24 in the spring of 1977.
I’m not quite sure what to say about “(I’ve Had The) Time Of My Life,” which came – as most readers likely know – from the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing. A ladyfriend and I saw the movie the first weekend it was released in the autumn of that year. As soon as the movie was over, we wanted the soundtrack and tried to get to any of the several record shops in St. Cloud before they closed for the evening. As it happened, we had to wait until the next day, when we had planned a shopping trip to the Twin Cities. And the record – a ballad that turns into a dance number with hints of gospel (musically if not lyrically) – remains a touchstone for me for the seasons that preceded the film’s release.
As I’ve mentioned several times over the past three years – and yeah, the third birthday of Echoes In The Wind went by without comment sometime around February 1, the date of the first post here – for many years country music and I were strangers.
My dad listened to country music on the radio by his basement workbench and in his old ’52 Ford, but he wasn’t a music fan, as such. I doubt that he knew the names of many of the artists he heard as the music on WVAL took him through an afternoon of tinkering in the basement. And I never really knew anyone whom I can recall from childhood whose family listened to country music at home.
I learned a very little bit about classic country from the soundtrack to The Last Picture Show, which I saw one evening during the mid-1970s at the student union at St. Cloud State, but I never followed up. Country music was the choice for about half of my first set of in-laws – during the late 1970s and the early 1980s – but none of what I heard during visits really stuck.
It wasn’t until 1990, during my brief stay on the Kansas prairie, that I began to dig much into country music. As brief as it was, the music finally reached me, and during my years of record collecting overkill during the mid- to late 1990s, country music – especially in those areas where it intersected with folk and rock, as it frequently does – was one of the genres I dug into at least a little. (That digging intensified with the arrival of the Texas Gal in my life; as much as she loves rock and pop, she’s also a country fan, and I now listen to – and know more about – more country music than I ever have.)
All that said, I was reminded this week that I learned about one of the classic songs of country music from a television commercial:
The tune used in the 1997 spot for AT&T – featuring a young Larisa Oleynik – was, of course, Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” (The spot is interesting for its depiction of what was cutting edge technology thirteen years ago.) I didn’t know that I’d ever heard the song before I saw the commercial. I imagine I must have, but whenever that might have been, it certainly didn’t make an impression. But once I heard it, I wanted to hear it again, so I did a little bit of crate-digging at Cheapo’s and a few other places, eventually finding a 1973 LP titled Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits, which had “Walkin’ After Midnight” as its leadoff. I think I used the tune on a few mixtapes I made for friends in the last years of the 1990s.
With the advent of CDs and then mp3s into my musical life, I soon learned that there are several – I really have no idea how many – versions of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Many of them are resettings of Cline’s vocal into new arrangements that probably date from the years after her death in a 1963 plane crash. When I set out to create the Ultimate Jukebox, I knew that I wanted “Walkin’ After Midnight” in it. I wasn’t certain which version I wanted, but after a moment’s thought, I decided to use the original, the tune that was a huge country hit in1957 and went to No. 12 on one of the four main pop charts of the the time (reaching Nos. 17, 21 and 22 on the other three).
But which was the original? After doing some digging, I learned that the version I first heard in the 1997 commercial – with the vocal “bompa-bompa” backing – was a re-recording that Cline did for her 1961 album Patsy Cline Showcase. I checked the other Patsy Cline anthology I have on vinyl and found an ill-advised revision in which the 1961 vocal is backed with an arrangement that pulls out the vocal parts and adds some horns. Then, deep in the files of stuff I had yet to listen to, I found what I think is an mp3 of the original 1957 recording, a record with a classic country feel to it.
So do I hold to my original thought and use the 1957 version? Or do I go with the first version I heard? I like the 1961 version – the one used in the commercial – a great deal. But I also enjoy the original with its twang. And it was the original that spent eleven weeks in the pop chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. So it’s the 1957 version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” that starts this fourth selection of tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox.
(A note: I’ve seen the song’s title presented as both “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Walking After Midnight.” The two LPs I dug out of my stacks use the latter, but I’ve gone with the title as listed by Joel Whitburn in the Billboard book.)
A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 4
“Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline from Patsy Cline 
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Tamla 54169 
“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4369 
“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri, A&M 1485 
“Mysterious Ways” by U2, Island 866188 
“You’re All I Need To Get By” was the fifth of seven Top 40 hits for the pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell before her death at age twenty-four in 1970. It wasn’t their biggest hit in the pop chart – “Your Precious Love” went to No. 5 – but “You’re All I Need To Get By,” still went to No. 7 and spent five weeks on top of the R&B chart. And to my ears, it’s the most enduring of their chart hits. I’m not sure why, but there really doesn’t have to be a reason. I just know that the two singers’ version of the song written Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson never gets old for me. (Ignore, if you can, the silliness of the Mulder/Scully video; just listen to the tune.) Key line: “I know you can make a man out of a soul that didn’t have a goal.”
As has been noted here before, the Grass Roots were actually several different groups of musicians over the years, but whoever they were, for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they provided a steady offering of tasty radio fare, with fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972. Why “Temptation Eyes” instead of “Midnight Confessions” or maybe “Sooner or Later”? Because the first time I heard it coming out of the radio back in early 1971, the intro to “Temptation Eyes” grabbed my collar and didn’t let go until the record was over. Did it speak to circumstances in my life? Not really. But I still liked the record enough that I enjoyed hearing it whenever it came onto the radio as it headed toward No. 15. Key lines: “But she lets me down every time. Can’t make her mine. She’s no one’s lover.”
Bob Seger was looking back to 1962 when he sang about high school lust in 1976. The distance between us and the record is now more than twice the distance Seger was looking at then. But the song still resonates here and in lots of places, mostly because the tendency to look back, if only for an instant, is one that’s almost universal. Those of us fascinated with memory and memoir – and I obviously am one – no doubt let our rearward gazes linger on those long-ago teenage games longer than do others. And those backward glances might be tinted by tenderness, regret, satisfaction, bewilderment or simply affection. Does any of that help us make any more sense out of it all? I dunno. Making sense out of memory isn’t the point, I don’t think. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and some will always remain, in Seger’s words, “mysteries without any clues.” The single went to No. 4 in 1976, the first of seven Top Ten hits for Seger. Key lines: “Ain’t it funny how the night moves when you just don’t seem to have as much to lose. Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closing in.”
There’s a disconnect between the jaunty music and the resigned lyric of Del Amitri’s “Kiss This Thing Goodbye.” But then I guess that knowing when to quit is a good thing, if matters have gotten as bad as the song’s lyrics indicate, and if one knows when to quit, one might as well be upbeat about it. Back in the days when I was learning the relationship dance, I never knew when to quit. Hearing this record – which went to No. 35 in 1990, the first of three Top 40 hits for the Scottish band – might have helped. But probably not. Key lines: “Now I’m watching the fumes foul up the sunrise. I’m watching the light fade away.”
There are times when I truly enjoy U2, and there are times when I find myself wearied by the group’s efforts. I liked The Joshua Tree for a while, and as frustrating as the group’s experimental phase of the early 1990s sometimes was, at least the band’s output in those years was distinctive and didn’t all blend together, as the more recent releases do for me. And if the lyrics to “Mysterious Ways” are self-consciously cryptic, at least they’re not as pretentious as a lot of the band’s songs have been over the years. The record went to No. 9 after entering the Top 40 midway through December 1991. Key line: “You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand.”