Posts Tagged ‘Howlin’ Wolf’

Depression

Friday, September 9th, 2016

I’ve been gone from here a lot lately, with my latest absence – six days – the second longest since I began this blog in early 2007. The longest was during a 3,000-mile trip to Texas and Arkansas that spring during which the Texas Gal and I kept a count of the roadkill we’d seen and were oddly enough able to include a llama in our tally.

But this has been no road trip and no dead llamas. This absence I have to ascribe to my own biochemistry and the resulting depression with which I’ve struggled my entire adult life.

I take my medication, at least most of the time. There are days I forget, but I do pretty well. For example, the current bottle of pills within reach here at my desk is one I got on June 4. I should have taken the last pill of those ninety around September 3. I have a pill left in the bottle for tomorrow, September 10, so I’ve missed seven pills in the last three or so months. That’s not too bad.

But one of the features of my particular depression is that sometimes it doesn’t care if I’ve taken my medication. Every four to six weeks, I head into a deep ditch of sadness, whether I’m medicated or not. My time in the ditch varies, from one or two days to – as I’ve been learning in recent days – as long as a week. I’m still there, and I see no way out of the ditch. (But then, it seems to me that I never really see the way out; I just find myself one morning back on the highway).

One of the worst things about depression – and I’ve been dealing with it for more than forty years, although I’ve had medication for it for only the last twenty or so – is that it not only settles a layer of sadness on life, it also makes joyless those things that would otherwise bring relief. Thus, in the last week, I’ve found far less satisfaction than I normally would have in sorting things and memories at my mom’s storage unit; celebrating my birthday; and anticipating the beginning of the pro football season, as it brings with it fantasy football and my ongoing (since 1970) attempts to predict the winners of each game.

And other things that I cherish have gone undone, things like digging into genealogy, playing table-top baseball, cooking, and yes, writing this blog.

Not even the Texas Gal can slice through the darkness. All I can do is tell her where I’ve found myself and trust that she and her love will be there for me when I find my way out.

As I indicated above, I don’t know when this particular stretch of dismal days will end. I just have to trust that they will, and I’ve decided to pick things up and truck on. I’ll likely call Dr. Julie or her nurses and talk about upping the dosage of my medication (or adjusting another medication that was recently altered, come to think of it). And in the meantime, I’ll get back to the things that enrich my life, trusting too that sometime soon they will be joyful pastimes instead of just things to do.

Depression is a tough thing to write about because our culture tends not to want to think about it or sometimes even recognize that it exists. I think we’re better in dealing with it, culturally and personally, than we were, oh, forty years ago. And that’s good, but we still have a distance to go. Lastly, I’m not looking for sympathy. I just wanted to explain what seems to me to be a long absence from this place where I share my life and the music I love.

So when I went looking through the digital stacks for some joy, well, I found lots of it. Here’s Howlin’ Wolf with his 1963 Chess single, “Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy.”

‘Three’

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

There aren’t a lot of threes out there. When I sort the 65,000 or so mp3s on the RealPlayer for the word “three,” I get 302 tunes. But – as in the recent cases of “One” and “Two” – I have to winnow out some chaff. And in the case of “Three,” there’s a lot of chaff.

For example, I have to ignore numerous albums by Three Dog Night and a few by the Three Degrees. I haven’t yet finished sorting and tagging a multi-disc anthology of R&B saxophone, so the twenty-seven tracks on Disc Three of that collection go by the wayside. The same with a nice 1963 album of Brazilian jazz by the Bossa Three and country singer Pat Green’s 2001 album Three Days.

Still, we’re left with enough tunes to explore this morning; certainly six of them should be worth a listen. We’ll travel in generally chronological order.

One of the first things I ever posted at Echoes In The Wind was the tale of my grandfather and the 45 rpm record he purchased for my sister’s birthday (her third, I believe). The record had “Little Red Riding Hood” on one side and “Three Little Pigs” on the other, as read by Al “Jazzbo” Collins. As I wrote in early 2007: “What Grandpa had found at the local record store was one of the great novelty records of the early 1950s, a record now fairly obscure. According to the Sept. 14, 1953, edition of Time magazine, Al ‘Jazzbo’ Collins, a Manhattan disk jockey, had found two hip reworkings of Grimm’s fairy tales in Down Beat magazine.” When Collins read and then recorded the tales – written by TV personality Steve Allen – they reached a wider audience than the hipsters who were Allen’s presumed audience, with the Brunswick recording that my grandfather purchased having sold 200,000 copies by mid-September 1953, according to that piece in Time magazine. The record’s no longer so obscure, perhaps, with numerous copies of it popping up on YouTube, but in any case, today seemed like a good day to revisit Jazzbo’s “Three Little Pigs.”

It’s startling to realize – as I did this morning – that in the five-plus years I’ve been blogging about music, I’ve written hardly anything about Donovan. I’ve mentioned him maybe twenty times and a couple of his tunes have showed up, one in an early mix and another as a Saturday Single. But I’ve never devoted a post to him or taken a close look at either his chart success or critical success. I know his work: Several of his LPs are in the stacks and more than eighty Donovan mp3s are in the player, but I guess that his music has never really meant that much to me, so I’ve never spent much time thinking about it. Will I now? I kind of doubt it. But one of his trippy tunes did show up this morning: “Three Kingfishers” from his 1966 album Sunshine Superman.

From trippy to trippier we go: The Incredible String Band, according to All Music Guide, was one “of the most engaging groups to emerge from the esoteric ’60s.” I’m not sure that “engaging” is the word I’d use; from this corner, “impenetrable” would be more accurate. AMG gives The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter – the group’s third album, released in 1968 – five stars, noting that the album stands as the group’s “undisputed classic among critics and musicians alike.” And here’s what AMG had to say about the track that showed up in this morning’s search: “‘Three Is a Green Crown’ is a psychedelic folk song in all its hypnotic droning glory.” Classic? Glory? Well, okay.

And we may as well trip on. In 1968, as the blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s faded further into memory, Chess Records had an idea: Take the vocal tracks from some of Muddy Waters’ greatest performances and lay them over psychedelicized instrumental tracks. The result was Electric Mud, which was reviled by blues purists and either sold well or was generally ignored by its target audience of tripped-out hippies, depending on which source you read. In 1969, it was Howlin’ Wolf’s turn, with a record that proclaimed “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either.” Here’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” the way it sounded in 1963. And here’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” as it showed up on that 1969 tripped-out album.

Mention the title “Three Little Birds” to a casual fan of reggae, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. I imagine that many folks would guess that the song by Bob Marley and the Wailers finds its title in its chorus of “Don’t worry ’bout a thing.” Released in 1977 on the album Exodus, the song is one of the sunniest in Marley’s catalog, and it’s a good place to find our stopping point this morning.

‘Down-town! Down-town!’

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Every so often, a record makes its way up the charts and touches something in the public that makes it not just a hit record but a pop culture sensation. Even those who do not listen to pop music become aware of it, and the record might even become a tag line that sums up an era – or at least a portion of an era.

Two of the more prominent such records I can recall span a good-sized length of time and a huge distance on the quality meter: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles in 1964 (No. 1 for seven weeks) and “Macarena (bayside boys mix)” by Los Del Rio in 1996 (No. 1 for fourteen weeks). Others that come to mind – and this will be a brief list created after minimal research, so it will necessarily be incomplete; readers are invited to leave their own suggestions in a comment – include:

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker Bill Hayes, No. 1 for five weeks in 1955 (backed by the power of the Disney television show and one of the largest [and possibly earliest] marketing blitzes of tie-in merchandise in the United States).

“Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, No. 1 for 11 weeks in 1956.

“The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, No. 1 for six weeks in 1958.

“The Twist” by Chubby Checker, No. 1 for one week in 1960 and for two weeks in 1962.

“Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, No. 1 for four weeks in 1967.

“American Pie, Parts I and II” by Don McLean, No. 1 for four weeks in 1972. (I wonder how many deejays played the split 45 – which I recall hearing on the air at least once – and how many went for the album track.)

“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando, No. 1 for four weeks in 1973. (This might be the most influential pop song of all time, given the reflexive reaction these days to mount displays of yellow ribbons for someone who is lost or gone away.)

“Convoy” by C. W. McCall, No. 1 for one week in 1976.

After that, except for “Macarena,” I’m not at all sure, given my tenuous connection to pop culture – especially pop music – during many of the years that followed. As I said, I would welcome suggestions.

So what brought that somewhat slender list to the fore today? It seems to me that the first entry in today’s selection from the Ultimate Jukebox might belong on that list. It was one of those records that seemed omnipresent at the time it was out, and it seemed at the time that everyone knew the record: the young folks who listened to Top 40 radio, the young folks who didn’t (and I, of course, was one of those) and the older folks who didn’t listen to Top 40. The record? “Downtown” by Petula Clark.

“Downtown” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 87 during the week of December 19, 1964, then skipped to No. 41. It went to No. 12 in the first week of 1965 and then to No. 5 and to No. 4 before spending the last two weeks of January at No. 1. That’s not the quickest rise ever (I recall writing about “Let It Be” and its massive leap), but it has to rank up there pretty well.

And everyone seemed to like it. It was a bouncy bit of pop sung well and produced well. (The 1992 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide said the record had “a mild Phil Spector-ish production,” which nails it pretty well.) It wasn’t rock, by any long stretch of the imagination (despite the voters for the Grammys who honored the record as the Best Rock and Roll Recording of 1965). And it had one hell of a hook, with its “Down-town!” (Without digging around, it strikes me that songwriter Tony Hatch came up with the shortest hook possible; or can a hook be just one note?)

Anyway, while perhaps not as influential on pop culture as some of the records in the list above, “Downtown” seemed to be everywhere as 1964 ended and 1965 began. Here’s a video, probably from around that time, of Petula Clark lip-synching the song.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 26
“Downtown” by Petula Clark, Warner Bros. 5494 [1964]
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, Atlantic 2478 [1968]
“Handbags & Gladrags” by Rod Stewart from The Rod Stewart Album [1969]
“Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 637 [1970]
“Highway 49” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions [1970]
“Thunder & Lightning” by Chi Coltrane, Columbia 45640 [1972]

I mentioned when I started this project that there was still one record I was uncertain about including and that I’d make that decision during Week 38 when I present the final six records in the jukebox. Actually, there’s another record whose place I’ve debated over the past few months: “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells. Sometimes when it pops up in company with the other songs on my Zen player it seems flat and blah and utterly out of place. Other times, it seems vibrant and creative and indispensible as Archie Bell calls his players out and brings them into the mix. Obviously, this week it seems the latter, and now I can quit dithering about it and just enjoy a record that was No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1968.

For the second week in a row, Rod Stewart shows up here, this time with “Handbags & Gladrags,” another one of those songs that I collect in as many versions as I can find. Written by Michael D’Abo (who was the lead singer for Manfred Mann as well as having a respected solo career), the plaintive song gets probably its best reading as an album track on Stewart’s first album (titled An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down in Britain). The album had no hit singles in the U.S., and that’s always baffled me; the inclusion of “Handbags & Gladrags” on Stewart’s first anthology, Sing It Again Rod, has always made me wonder if the track was released as a single in the U.K. (and if it was released here and utterly tanked). Whatever the case, the track is another bit of sweet testimony as to how good Stewart once was.

CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” peaked at No. 2 in early March of 1970. The record lasts only two minutes and seven seconds, but into those 127 seconds, John Fogerty and his bandmates pack in plenty of potent reminders of Little Richard and the rest of the artists he had to have listened to during his youth in California. As it happens, I’m not the only person to hear Little Richard in “Travelin’ Man.” According to The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, Arco Industries, which owned the copyright to Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” filed suit against Fogerty for what it said was his use of the song. The Billboard book cites CCR bassist Stu Cook as saying in Bad Moon Rising: “The song is a direct rip-off of Little Richard’s style . . . I always thought it sounded more like ‘Long Tall Sally.’ Of course, Little Richard wasn’t above quoting himself, either.” The suit was settled, Cook is quoted as saying, when CCR’s label, Fantasy, bought the Little Richard tune from Venice Music.

A while back, on one of those evenings when my pal Rob and I were sifting through the mp3 collection for something he could use in one of his classes, I clicked on Howlin’ Wolf’s reading of “Highway 49” from his London sessions in May 1970. As Eric Clapton’s incendiary intro rang out, Rob stared and blurted, “That’s not blues, that’s rock ’n’ roll!” Actually, it’s both, merged in a way that points out how difficult it can be to sort genres when performances get close to the edges. Given the Wolf’s vocal performance, it would be hard to argue that “Highway 49” is not blues. Given the instrumental backing of the track, it would be hard to argue against rock. So the best thing to do, I think, is to quit worrying about labels and just enjoy the Wolf as he and his long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin work with one of the best collections of rock musicians ever brought together as a backing band: Clapton on lead guitar, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on percussion and Jeffrey M. Carp on harmonica. (Steve Winwood played keyboards, but according to the notes in the CD reissue, his parts were added later in Chicago.)

One of the first albums I ripped from vinyl and shared through the first version of this blog was Chi Coltrane’s self-titled debut album, anchored by her only hit single, “Thunder and Lightning.” The rest of the album was fairly good, but none of the songs matched up against that single, which turned out to be Coltrane’s only hit. I’d liked “Thunder and Lightning” a fair amount when it was on the radio, so after I posted that first album I dug around online and found two more of the Wisconsin-born singer’s albums, 1973’s Let It Ride and Road to Tomorrow from 1977. Let It Ride features a cover of “Hallelujah,” first recorded by the Clique in 1969 and later a minor hit for Sweathog in 1971, but otherwise the two albums are pretty blah. That’s okay. There remains “Thunder and Lightning,” which went to No. 17 during the autumn of 1972.