Posts Tagged ‘Gene Clark’

‘North’

Friday, March 11th, 2016

When we sort the 88,000 or so mp3s on the digital shelves for the direction “north” – beginning, as we do so, our “Follow the Directions” journey promised a few weeks ago – we run into several obstacles.

First of all, numerous mp3s have been tagged by their rippers over the years as “Northern Soul,” a designation that, as I’ve noted before, tends to baffle me because it’s more reliant on the reaction of the listener than it is to anything intrinsic to the music. But never mind. We’ll have to ignore those.

We also lose tunes by those performers and groups that have “north” as part of their names, like Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers, a 1920s string band; the North Mississippi Allstars, a current blues ’n’ boogie band; Northern Light, the band that released “Minnesota” in 1975; Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Northcott (without intending to, I’ve gathered eleven of his recordings); and a current folky group called True North.

Then we have to cross off our list a live 1982 performance by Jesse Winchester in Northampton, Massachusetts; and almost every track from many albums, including the Freddy Jones Band’s 1995 album North Avenue Wake Up Call, the Michael Stanley Band’s North Coast (1981), Dawes’ North Hills (2014), Sandy Denny’s The North Star Grassman & The Raven (1971), The Band’s Northern Lights/Southern Cross (1975) and Ian & Sylvia’s Northern Journey (1964). But we still have enough to choose from to find four worthy tunes pointing us to the “N” on the compass.

Regular readers know my regard for the late Jesse Winchester, and I think I know his catalog fairly well, but every now and then, his whimsy surprises me all over again, as happened with his tune “North Star” this morning. It starts like a serene, folky meditation:

Heaven’s got this one star that don’t move none
And that’s the place you want to aim your soul
Set you on a spot that knows no season
And be satisfied just to watch old Jordan roll

And then Winchester leaps:

Now, does the world have a belly button?
I can’t get this out of my head
’Cause if it turns up in my yard
I’ll tickle it so hard
’Til the whole world will laugh to wake the dead

Surprises me every time. It’s on Winchester’s 1972 album Third Down, 110 To Go.

If the North had ever had a poet/musician laureate, for years that place would have been filled by Gordon Lightfoot, and just three of his songs would have cemented him there: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Alberta Bound.” And it seems to me that Lightfoot summed up all of his Canadian lore in one last good Northern song: “Whispers of the North” from his 1983 album Salute:

Whispers of the north
Soon I will go forth
To that wild and barren land
Where nature takes its course
Whispers of the wind
Soon I will be there again
Bound with a wild and restless drive
That pulls me from within
And we can ride away
We can glide all day
And we can fly away

Back in the late 1980s, a ladyfriend and I included Lightfoot on our list of essential musicians; even so, I’ve never been driven to pull together a complete Lightfoot collection, as I’ve done with Bob Dylan (with the exception of his Christmas album). The urgency wasn’t there, I guess, although the shelves – both wooden and digital – hold plenty of Lightfoot. And “Whispers of the North,” though it might not rank with the other three Canadian anthems I mentioned above, is pretty high on my list. The loon call at the start doesn’t hurt, of course.

The song that shows up most frequently – twenty-two times – in my sorting of “north” is Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Beyond five versions by Dylan himself and four by Leon Russell (one of those with Joe Cocker and one with the Tedeschi Trucks Band), I have versions by the Country Gentlemen, Hamilton Camp, Howard Tate, Margo Timmins, Rosanne Cash, Mylon Lefevre, Jimmy LaFave, Leo Kottke and several other folks, including the previously mentioned Tom Northcott. A Vancouver native, Northcott had several charting singles in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s and got into the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. once, when his cover of Harry Nilsson’s “1941” went to No. 88 in early 1968. (A cover of Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street” had bubbled under at No. 123 during the summer of 1967.) His pleasant take on “Girl From the North Country” went to No. 65 on the Canadian charts in 1968.

And we end today with “Lady Of The North” by Gene Clark, the closer to his 1974 album No Other. According to the tales told at Wikipedia, Clark – after some years of indulgence – was sober when wrote the bulk of the album’s songs at his home in Mendocino, California. After heading to Los Angeles to record, though, he more than dabbled in cocaine, and his wife, Carlie, took the couple’s children back to Northern California. Whether it was a direct response, I’m not certain, but Clark, with help from Doug Dillard, wrote “Lady Of The North” for Carlie and used it as the album’s closer. Wikipedia notes that the album was a “critical and commercial failure,” that the time and resources used to record were “seen as excessive and indulgent,” and that Asylum did little to promote the album. Two CD releases of the album in recent years have been met with better critical and commercial response.

The Day

Friday, October 16th, 2015

In the east, a thin sliver of light – maybe bright, maybe muted through clouds – slides its way above the horizon. As it does, the music begins.

The tune is “Dawn” from a 1973 self-titled album by a group calling itself Glory. It was Glory’s first album, but that’s only a technicality: Since 1968, when two Cleveland groups more or less merged to form what All Music Guide calls an “acid rock combo,” the musicians in Glory had been calling themselves The Damnation Of Adam Blessing and had released three albums on the United Artists label. A dispute with the label brought about the name change.

The first album, a 1969 self-titled work, spent two weeks in the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 181. In 1970, a single titled “Back To The River” – from the album The Second Damnation – bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, peaking at No. 102.

Glory, a good if unspectacular album, was the last word from the group; it and the first two Adam Blessing albums, as well as an anthology, are available on CD.

The music continues as the hands of the clocks turn just a little. It’s not quite raining as we listen to “In A Misty Morning” by the late Gene Clark from his 1973 album, Roadmaster.

At the time, the album was actually released only in the Netherlands, according to Wikipedia, which notes that Clark’s label, A&M, was displeased with the slow pace of his work and created the album by combining eight of Clark’s new tracks with three tracks from other sessions (two tracks from sessions with the Byrds in 1970-71 and one track from sessions with the Flying Burrito Brothers). Whatever the source, Roadmaster is a decent listen.

Clark’s catalog is not easily listed, given his solo work and his work with Doug Dillard, with the Byrds and finally with McGuinn, Clark & Hillman. I’ve seen his 1974 album No Other mentioned as the best of his career, and it’s the only solo album to reach the Billboard 200, peaking at 144 in 1974.

Most of his work, including Roadmaster, seems to be available on CD; I didn’t take the time to do an album by album check.

By late morning, the mist is gone, and as the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, it’s time for a break. Our refreshment is “Red Wine At Noon” by Joy Of Cooking, found on the group’s 1971 self-titled debut.

The Berkeley-based group has been mentioned and featured here frequently enough that I’m not sure there’s a lot left to say. I’ll just note that I wish that the group’s unreleased fourth album, 1973’s Same Old Song And Dance, would somehow find a release. And I’ll add that not long ago, I got hold of a two-CD collection titled “back to your heart” that offers seventeen unreleased studio tracks – some of them polished, some less so – as well as a 1972 concert in Berkeley. If you like what I call “living room music,” it’s sweet stuff.

All three of Joy Of Cooking’s original albums spent some time in the Billboard 200: Joy Of Cooking (1971) went to No. 100, Closer To The Ground (1971) peaked at No. 136, and Castles (1972) got to No. 174. The group’s only charting single in Billboard was “Brownsville,” which went to No. 66 in 1971. All the original albums are available on CD, as is “back to your heart” and a collection titled American Originals, which includes a few tracks from the unreleased Same Old Song And Dance.

The day moves on, and some times of day and some times of year merge nicely for time spent outdoors. That’s evidently what the Stone Poneys thought in 1967 when they released “Autumn Afternoon” on Evergreen Vol. 2.

The Stone Poneys were, of course, Linda Ronstadt, Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards, with Ronstadt handling almost all of the lead vocals on Evergreen Vol. 2, the group’s second album. If the stories at Wikipedia are accurate (and I think they are, given the notes), the group’s label, Capitol, saw Ronstadt as the marketable talent and Kimmel and Edwards as expendable. And the guys were pushed firmly to the side.

Evergreen Vol. 2 went to No. 100 in Billboard upon its release in 1967. The first album, re-released with the title The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt, went to No. 172 in 1975.

The Stone Poneys’ first two albums are available on a two-fer CD; also available on CD is Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III, a 1968 release that was, from what I read, more Ronstadt and very little Poneys.

After the sun goes down (and we could easily – and might someday – devote an entire slice of this kind of whimsy to “sundown” alone), and the shadows come from the streetlights and perhaps a full moon, it’s time to get a little slinky. Pat Benatar did it well on “Evening” from her 1991 exploration of jump blues and torch songs, True Love.

Benatar, of course, was a 1980s icon with eleven Top 40 hits from 1979 to 1984; six of her albums made the Top Fifteen during that time as well. True Love did not. It peaked at No. 37. Given my tastes, it’s not surprising that I like it better than the rest of Benatar’s catalog. Like all of her catalog, it’s easily available.

Just past 11:59 p.m., the clock turns over, a new day starts, and we hear “Midnight Wind” by John Stewart from his 1979 album Bombs Away Dream Babies. The album was fortified by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks – both contributed backing vocals, and Buckingham added guitar and co-produced – and was the greatest success of Stewart’s long career, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200.

None of Stewart’s six earlier charting albums had gone higher than No. 126; his 1980 follow-up, Dream Babies Go Hollywood, went to No. 85, and Stewart’s moment was gone.

But the moment was a great one, with a sound evocative of its time: “Midnight Wind” went to No. 28 in the Hot 100; its predecessor, “Gold,” had reached No. 5. A third single from Bombs Away Dream Babies, “Lost Her In The Sun,” went to No. 34.

The album is seemingly out of print; copies are available on CD but at higher prices than I’m willing to pay. The same seems to hold true for most of Stewart’s catalog.

‘Cast Your Dancing Spell My Way . . .’

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

So how many covers are out there of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”? Who knows?

There are sixty versions – including Dylan’s – listed at Second Hand Songs. There are more than 500 mp3s – with much duplication – offered at Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve found covers at YouTube not listed in either place.

(I checked at both BMI and ASCAP, as I’m not sure which organization administers Dylan’s songs. I found no listings for Dylan at either place, which eithers means I’m doing something wrong while searching or his compositions are administered elsewhere. Either way, it’s no help.)

The listing at Second Hand Songs starts with Dylan’s original and the Byrds’ ground-breaking cover in 1965 and goes on to the 2012 version by Jack’s Mannequin, which was included in the four-CD set Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The first cover listed after the Byrds’ cover is a 1965 misspelled offering of “Mr. Tambourin Man” from a group called the Finnish Beatmakers. Except for the Finnish accent – which I kind of like – it’s a copy of the Byrds’ version, starting right from the guitar introduction.

And that’s the case for many of the covers I’ve listened to this week: they’re warmed-over fowl. One of the few with an original sound came, interestingly, from Gene Clark, one of the members of the Byrds when they recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man.” His version of the Dylan tune – with a reimagined (and very nice, to my ears) introduction – was included on his 1984 album, Firebyrd.

The originator of the Byrds’ classic guitar lick, Roger McGuinn, shows up on a 1989 version of the tune recorded live in Los Angeles with Crowded House. As might be expected in that circumstance, it’s pretty much a copy of the Byrds’ version, with the Finn brothers et al. backing McGuinn.

Other early versions of note came from the Brothers Four and Johnny Rivers in 1965, from a young Stevie Wonder (with, one assumes, the Funk Brothers behind him), the Lettermen, the Beau Brummels and Noel Harrison in 1966, and from the Leathercoated Minds and Kenny Rankin in 1967. Versions from 1966 that I’d like to hear came from Billy Lee Riley and Duane Eddy. Odetta, as might be expected, offered an idiosyncratic and austere take on the tune in 1965.

Easy listening folks got hold of the tune, too. Billy Strange is listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded a cover in 1965; I haven’t found that one (though my digging is not yet done), but I did find an easy listening version – with banjo, no less – recorded in 1965 by the Golden Gate Strings. And Johnny Harris & His Orchestra recorded the tune for the Reader’s Digest’s Up, Up & Away collection, which seems to have been released in 1970.

Speaking of banjo, the bluegrass/country duo of Flatt & Scruggs took on the song for their 1968 album, Changin’ Times. It’s nicely arranged with some nice harmonica in the background, but they’re too, well, square for the song, and that’s true right from the start, when they drop the “ain’t” and sing “there is no place I’m goin’ to.”

We’ll look at a few more versions of the tune – some of them quite nice – next week, but we’ll close today with a foreign language version of the tune. (Did you honestly think I would not drop one of those in?) Titled “Hra tampuurimies,” it’s a 1990 version from the irresistibly named Finnish group Freud, Marx, Engels & Jung.

‘She’ll Leave You Lost Some Rainy Morn . . .’

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

A ringing guitar chord followed by an insistent riff came from the speakers last evening, causing me to look up from whatever I was doing. The riff was repeated twice, and then came the vocal:

Three silver rings on slim hands waiting,
Flash bright in candlelight through Sunday’s early morn.
We found a room that rainy morning . . .

I’d recognized the song from the first three words: “The French Girl” by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker. But I did not know the record, so I checked the RealPlayer. It was by the Daily Flash, a band name I did not recognize. The mp3 had come to me a few years ago when I scavenged a good portion of the Lost Jukebox series from various boards and blogs.

The Daily Flash, it turns out, was from Seattle and had about a three-year run of recording and performing in the mid-1960s, during which it released singles on Parrot (a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately”) and on Uni, which in 1967 released the band’s take on “The French Girl.” The second single, says Wikipedia, did well enough to net the group an appearance on the television show The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., which led “to a regular spot as a house band on a local Los Angeles teen-oriented TV show Boss City.”

Learning all of that was fine, and I may dig more into the band’s story another time. (Wikipedia tells the band’s tale here, and the revived band’s website is here.) But I was more interested in the song. There isn’t a lot of information out there about “The French Girl,” as far as I can tell. My favorite tool in that regard, Second Hand Songs, doesn’t have an entry for the tune. A folky version by Bill Staines is available at Amazon, where a countryish cover by a band called the Snakes is listed but not available. At Discogs.com, I learned that a band named Ashtray Boy released a cover of the song as a single in 1996, thirty years after Ian & Sylvia included the tune on their 1966 album, Play One More. I don’t know how Ashtray Boy’s version sounded, but here’s what Ian & Sylvia did with the song.

I know of two other covers of the tune (though I’d guess there are more out there): A version by Gene Clark of the Byrds showed up on the Flying High anthology in 1998, and a note by Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide leads me to believe that Clark recorded the track in the mid-1960s, around the time of the release of the 1967 album Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. Clark’s version of “The French Girl” is a bit pallid to me.

The other cover I know is the first version I ever heard of the song: The version by Glenn Yarbrough on his 1967 album For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her. The album was, as I related some years ago, one that my sister had received from a boyfriend who was headed to Vietnam. I don’t know how often she played the record, but the record and Yarbrough became favorites of mine. And listening to Yarbrough introduced me, in those days when I was not listening to pop and rock, to the work of some of the finest folk and folk-rock songwriters of the day. The songwriter credits on Yarbrough’s For Emily album alone contain some impressive names: Paul Simon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Stephen Stills, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan . . . and Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, the writers of “The French Girl.”

First impressions matter, folks tell us when we’re young (and maybe not so young). And yes, they do. So it’s no wonder that the version of “The French Girl” that I like the best is the one I heard first. I know that Yarbrough’s lilting tenor might not be the best match for the song. I also know that Ian & Sylvia recorded the song first, and that deserves some respect. I know as well that the more muscular version offered by the Daily Flash is pretty darned good. (And if the Snakes’ version is ever available at Amazon, I’ll probably like it a lot.)

But it’s Yarbrough’s cover of the song that came to me first. And it’s Yarbrough’s version that takes me back to the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard, the haven where I took in the frustration of the song’s narrator – “but her friends down at the French café had no English words for me” – and then pondered my life’s own mysteries, which sadly included no French girl.

‘One Last Cup Of Wine We Will Pour . . .’

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Once more, I start with one idea and then go off somewhere else.

This morning, I was scanning the Billboard Hot 100 for October 15, 1966, and I was finding some nice bits and pieces for a Chart Digging post when I came to a record by Crispian St. Peters. Yeah, the fellow who had a No. 4 hit a few months earlier in 1966 with “The Pied Piper” and who passed on in June 2010 at the age of seventy-one.

His name, of course, wasn’t the Anglophilic Crispian St. Peters; he was Robin Peter Smith, which to my mind sounds English enough, especially as he came from Kent. (I’d think billing him as Smith From Kent might have sounded good, but then, I’m not a mid-1960s record executive.) The promotions and A&R men likely thought that calling him Crispian St. Peters would sell more records. I don’t know how his career went in the U.K., but on this side of the ocean, “The Pied Piper” was clearly his biggest hit. “You Were On My Mind,” a cover of the tune that was a 1965 hit for We Five, went to No. 36 in the summer of 1967, and two of his other three records in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles only reached the Bubbling Under portion of the Hot 100.

And the Crispian St. Peters record that caught my attention today is “Changes,” which was at No. 64 forty-five years ago this week and eventually peaked at No. 57:

It’s a pleasant record, and I knew I’d heard the song before, but I couldn’t place it right away.  Then I noticed the writing credit and I went digging.

I’ve never written much about Phil Ochs, who is often referred to as one of the tragic figures of the 1960s folk movement. A committed political activist who was also a gifted songwriter and performer, Ochs wrote some of the most hard-edged and sometimes caustic anthems to come out of that 1960s movement. The ones that come most quickly to my mind are “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” from 1969 and “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” from 1965. He sold some records and got some attention, but as I understand it from a few sources, he also battled depression. He killed himself in 1976.

“Changes” was an anomaly for Ochs, a personal song from an almost perpetually political man. From what I can tell, it first showed up on an album titled Phil Ochs in Concert, a 1966 album that’s very likely not a true live album. It sounds very much like a collection of solo studio performances with applause grafted onto the beginning and end of the tracks. The version in the video below sounds like the version on that so-called live album with the audience sounds removed; it first showed up, as far as I can tell, on the 1989 anthology titled There But For Fortune. But no matter what version you find, “Changes” is a good song.

Sit by my side, come as close as the air.
Share in a memory of gray,
And wander in my words, dream about the pictures
That I play of changes.

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall;
To brown and to yellow they fade,
And then they have to die, trapped within
The circle time parade of changes.

Scenes of my young years were warm in my mind,
Visions of shadows that shine.
’Til one day I returned and found they were the
Victims of the vines of changes.

The world’s spinning madly; it drifts in the dark,
Swings through a hollow of haze,
A race around the stars, a journey through
The universe ablaze with changes.

Moments of magic will glow in the night.
All fears of the forest are gone,
But when the morning breaks they’re swept away by
Golden drops of dawn, of changes.

Passions will part to a strange melod,.
As fires will sometimes burn cold.
Like petals in the wind, we’re puppets to the silver
Strings of souls, of changes.

Your tears will be trembling, now we’re somewhere else.
One last cup of wine we will pour,
And I’ll kiss you one more time, and leave you on
The rolling river shores of changes.

So sit by my side, come as close as the air.
Share in a memory of gray,
And wander in my words, dream about the pictures
That I play of changes.

It also turned out, I think, to be one of Ochs’ most-covered songs. I have a few versions of the song, and – while it’s difficult at All-Music Guide to sort out the listings for Ochs’ song as opposed to other songs with the same title – I found a few more this morning.

Some of the performers that covered “Changes” are unsurprising: Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, the Pozo-Seco Singers and other folk interpreters of the mid-1960s. But there are some interesting covers: bluegrass musician Tony Rice included the tune on his 1988 album Native American, and former Byrd Gene Clark recorded the song – with help from Carla Olson – for True Voices, a 1995 benefit CD. (The video presenting Clark’s cover also includes his performance of “Silent Crusade” from his 1977 album Two Sides to Every Story.)

But the most interesting cover among those I listened to this morning come from an album that I long sought on vinyl, finally settling for a CD rip: Changes, a 1966 release by the folk/pop rock duo of Jim Glover and Jean Ray, who recorded as Jim & Jean. Their take on “Changes” has a Byrds-ish quality to it. A look at the album credits listed at AMG – and I’d guess that the credits are incomplete – shows Al Kooper on guitar and Harvey Brooks on guitar and bass, so I’m not sure who’s doing the Byrds-y thing there. But it’s an interesting folk-rock cover of one of Phil Ochs’ better songs.

Revised slightly and video placed December 21, 2013.