Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Rivers’

Roogalators, Quetzals & More

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Today’s a good day to follow up on a few bits and pieces, most of them from Friday’s post.

As I wrote Friday, one of the things that caught my eye when I dug into Johnny Rivers’ “(I Washed My Hands In) Muddy Water” was that it had a tune called “Roogalator” as its B-side. I wondered in that post about the connection between Rivers’ B-side – a jam punctuated with shouts of “Roogalator” – and the record that Bobby Jameson made with Frank Zappa, “Gotta Find My Roogalator.”

I got a chance to ask Bobby about it Monday, and he told me: “I got the name ‘roogalator’ from Johnny when we were riding motorcycles in ’66. . . . Don’t know where he got it from.”

I noticed as I was digging that there was also a mid-70s band named Roogalator with several videos posted on YouTube. The persistence of “roogalator” reminds me of the fascination that musicians – mostly on the West Coast, I think – had during the late 1940s and early 1950s with the word “voot.” My collection of mp3s, which doesn’t focus too much on that era, has six songs that use the word in their titles, one of which is “No Voot, No Boot” by Dinah Washington with Lucky Thompson’s All Stars.

In the midst of my thinking about all that over the weekend, I got an email from my pal Yah Shure, who wanted to know if I was aware of WXYG, the new album rock radio station in the St. Cloud market. I wasn’t, but I followed Yah Shure’s lead and checked it out.

The actual radio signal is 250 watts, which is pretty slender, and it turns out that we can’t get it on our radios inside the house because of the presence of WJON less than a block away. But it comes in fine through its website (click the blue “Play” button), and it’s great fun. I looked at the station’s playlist as I’m writing this, and the last five tunes the station has played are “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” by George Harrison, “Tommy Can You Hear Me” by the Who, “I’m Not In Love” by 10CC, “Star” by David Bowie and “Empty Sky” by Elton John. And if I heard correctly over the weekend, the station is commercial-free all summer.

I found WXYG’s Facebook page and left a note saying that the station reminded me of the now-gone show titled “Beaker Street” that aired on KAAY out of Little Rock, Arkansas. And whoever takes care of the station’s Facebook page responded, saying “We like to think of it as ‘Beaker Street’ on steroids.”

“Give It To Me” by the J. Geils band was one of the tunes I listed last Friday, and I mentioned the single edit of the track, a version that edited out Magic Dick’s superb harp solo. In our exchange of emails over this past weekend, Yah Shure recalled that when he went to his local record store to purchase the single back in 1973, he found that some of the singles had the edited version of the track and some had the full-length version of the track. The two versions, Yah Shure said, were the products of two separate pressing plants. I wonder how often that’s happened.

And while Yah Shure told me he had no insight into the above-mentioned “roogalator” question, he said that he’d similarly wondered about the origin of Sonny Bono’s fascination with the word “quetzal.” (According to Wikipedia, “quetzal” refers to “a group of colourful birds of the trogon family found in the Americas. Quetzal is also often used to refer to one particular species, the Resplendent Quetzal.”) Yah Shure listed three titles in which Bono, as producer, used the word. Sadly – having deleted our email exchange – I can only recall one of them this morning. But here’s “Walkin’ the Quetzal,” a brief instrumental that was on the B-side of “Baby Don’t Go” both when it was released and went nowhere in 1964 (as Reprise 0309) and in 1965, when “Baby Don’t Go/Walkin’ the Quetzal” was released as Reprise 0392 and went to No. 8.

Continuing the quetzal quest, I found an interesting site called Probe is Turning-On the People! – evidently a catalog of webcasts, podcasts or actual broadcasts – and an entry there lists eight separate Sonny Bono “quetzal” records and says:

The so-called Quetzal records were a series of B-side instrumental throwaways created by Sonny Bono and his arranger Harold Battiste, in cooperation with Sonny & Cher’s managers Brian Stone and Charlie Greene. Quickly recorded and musically skeletal, the records were designed (in the manner of Bono’s mentor, Phil Spector) to compel radio attention to their respective A-sides. Although the songwriting was invariably credited to Bono, Greene and Stone, the general concensus is that the Quetzal sides were written (to the extent they were written at all) by Battiste.

The note adds, “[T]he word quetzal was an in-joke among Sonny and his friends, chosen most likely simply because they liked the sound of it.”

Chart Digging At The End Of June

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The last day of June. Half-way through the year.

Fiscal years end today in a lot of places, including the state of Minnesota, where the state Legislature and the governor are still sparring over a budget. If there’s no agreement today, then many state office and services will be shut down tomorrow. I don’t know that the absence of any of those offices and services would affect our lives right away, but that just means we’re fortunate. Others, I know, are less so, and those who rely on state services for health care, for nutrition, for transportation are likely in for some precarious times. (A court ruling reported this morning contains the good news that health care and food stamps, among other services considered essential, will continue to be available. But state services considered nonessential will be discontinued if July 1 dawns without a budget.)

Political paralysis aside, the last day of June is a nice time to ponder the progress of things. We frequently do that at the end of the year when midwinter gloom makes it difficult to see progress or sometimes even much good. It’s a whole lot better, I think, to do that kind of navel-gazing at the midpoint of the year. It’s warm and generally sunny, and one can contemplate the way things are going while seated in a lawn chair next to a leafy oak tree, sipping from a cold mug of beer. Things always seem better with sunshine and beer.

And the mid-point of the year is a good time to dig into a few Billboard charts from over the years, as I am wont to do anyway. This time, we’ll be looking at records that were at No. 30 on June 30 over the years. We’ll start in 1961 and wander this direction.

According to Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, the Edsels first released their one Top 40 hit on the Dub label in 1958, when its title was first “Lama Rama Ding Dong” and then the more familiar “Rama Lama Ding Dong.” But it wasn’t until 1961, when the same record was released on the Twin label, that “Rama Lama Ding Dong” became a hit. By the time June 30 rolled around, the record was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 21. The Edsels, who hailed from Campbell, Ohio, were of course named for the highly touted line of automobiles introduced by Ford in 1957. The vehicle was one of the greatest failures in American automotive history. The musical group, with one great doo-wop hit, did much better.

Listening to the introduction of Johnny Rivers’ “(I Washed My Hands In) Muddy Water” with the crowd noises in the background, I can only assume that the track was recorded – as were a number of Rivers’ mid-1960s records, including his No. 2 hit “Memphis” – live at Hollywood’s Whisky á Go-Go nightclub. And at the mid-point of June in 1966, “Muddy Water” was at No. 30, heading toward an eventual peak of No. 19. It was the tenth time Rivers had reached the Hot 100, and he’d end up with a total of twenty-nine Hot 100 hits by the time “Curious Mind” went to No. 41 in 1977. But what intrigues me this morning is the title of the tune on the flipside of the record: “Roogalator.” It was during 1966 that Bobby Jameson recorded and released his song “Gotta Find My Roogalator,” and I know that Bobby knew Johnny Rivers. The Rivers B-side is not the same tune; it’s an instrumental jam punctuated by shouts of “Roogalator!” So I wonder if it was a catch-word for folks in that milieu, or was it a shout-out to Bobby Jameson?

Having jumped five years in that first leap, we’ll now move up four years. In the last days of June 1970, the No. 30 song was “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I’ve written before that “Teach Your Children” is the best thing Graham Nash ever wrote in his long career, and I think I’ll stick by that statement. I have also mentioned that the track was one I featured on a long-ago radio show as one of the ten records I’d put on a desert island tape. (This was in 1988, just before CDs became the medium of choice.) And I find it interesting that a bit more than twenty years later, as I assembled my Ultimate Jukebox, “Teach Your Children” – which peaked at No. 16 – was not included. I still like the record, but the evidence shows that it doesn’t rate as highly with me as it once did.

When I glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from June 30, 1973, I find a record that I only vaguely remember. Sitting at No. 30 that week was “Give It To Me” by the J. Geils Band. It was the second Top 100 hit for the band (“Looking For A Love” had gone to No. 39 in early 1972), but it would go no higher than No. 30. The band eventually reached the Top Ten in the early 1980s with the No. 1 hit “Centerfold” and the No. 4 “Freeze-Frame,” neither of which I like as much as I like “Give It To Me” this morning. I find it interesting that the version of “Give It To Me” posted at YouTube is the single; at least one commenter there notes the absence of the harp solo by Magic Dick, which showed up in the version released on the album Bloodshot.

Jumping ahead just two years this time, we land in the middle of the summer of 1975, a season I wrote about not long ago. In that post, as I noted the presence of “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” in the Top Ten, I wrote: “I can do without the John Denver tune for the rest of my life.” Well, the ball takes funny bounces, and at No. 30 as June 1975 ended sat “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” sliding down the chart after peaking at No. 1 during the first week of June. But that’s okay. Having John Denver show up as I dig through the charts does two things: It shows that I don’t cherry-pick when I dig, and it gives me a chance to link to a post I recently put up at Echoes In The Wind Archives in which I discussed my thoughts about John Denver in the context of a 1975 visit to a St. Cloud pizza joint gone now for many years.

And we’ll end this journey in 1976 with a record that I tend to forget about, and it’s one I liked a fair amount when it was on the radio. Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” was sitting at No. 30 as June ended that summer, heading to peaks of No. 17 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.  Having been cast in Robert Altman’s acclaimed 1975 movie Nashville, Carradine wrote “I’m Easy” for his character to perform in the film. The tune earned him an Academy Award for Best Song. Here’s his performance of the song from Nashville:

‘Lookin’ For A Soul Brother . . .”

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Sometime in the late 1950s, musician and civil rights activist Oscar Brown, Jr., sat down and worked out a tune titled “Brother Where Are You,” a song of despair that was also a quiet call to action and its listeners’ self-reflection:

A small boy walked down a city street
And hope was in his eyes
As he searched the faces of the people he’d meet
For one he could recognize

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

The eyes of the people who passed him by
Were cold and hard as stone
The poor boy whimpered and began to cry
Because he was all alone

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

Now there are many
Who will swear that it’s true
That brothers are we all
Yet it seems there are very few
Who will answer a brother’s call

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

“Brother Where Are You” first showed up on record, as far as I can tell, on Abbey Is Blue, a 1959 album by jazz singer Abbey Lincoln. (A year later, Lincoln would team with Brown, Coleman Hawkins and other jazz luminaries for the album We Insist! – Freedom Now, a civil rights-themed project released in anticipation of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.)

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

I have no way to know where Rivers found the song, but there were several versions of it out there. (Tracking the song on indices can be difficult, as some listings have a comma after “Brother” and some don’t. Additionally, some include a question mark at the end of the title while others don’t. The number of possible permutations means I no doubt missed some covers while digging.) Among the more notable versions I found were several early soul/R&B versions of the song, one by a group called Thee Midniters from 1965 and another by a singer named Richard Simmons (not the exercise dweeb) in 1966. I also found a live 1965 performance by the composer himself, later released on the album Mr. Oscar Brown, Jr. Goes to Washington.

One of the more interesting covers of the tune is by the Remo Four, a Liverpool group from the mid-Sixties that released some good records and worked with, among others, Beatle George Harrison. Among its members were Tony Ashton and Roy Dyke, who with Kim Gardner, later scored a one-hit wonder – “Resurrection Shuffle” – in the U.S. as Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. In 1967, the Remo Four’s version of “Brother Where Are You” was included on Smile, an album released in Germany. (It’s now available on CD anywhere.)

One of the most indelible parts of River’s recording of the song on Realization is the chant of the background singers: “Lookin’ for a soul brother all around me.” I’m not at all sure where that originated, but it’s included as well on the version Al Wilson used to close his 1968 album Searching For The Dolphins. As Rivers produced Wilson’s album, which was then released on Rivers’ Soul City label, I’d really like to know which of the two, Rivers or Wilson, was the first to record the song.

There have been other covers of the tune over the years, of course. A combined total of the listings at All-Music Guide shows about eighty CDs on the market that include the song. Subtract – as a guesstimate – half for duplication and other songs with the same title, and there are still about forty artists and groups that have covered the song. And it continues to attract attention. A 2008 version by a group called Masters of Space And Time caught my attention this morning at Amazon. But as is the case with many tunes, I still hold the familiar close. So the version I first heard, Rivers’ take on the tune, is the one I turn to.

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

Monday, February 1st, 2010

We’re back – that would be Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, and me – from our unplanned time off. And we have our very own domain name now, which should provide some insulation as we continue to examine music and my life and how the two intersect.

We began the exploration of the Ultimate Jukebox in one of our last posts at the other location, and I mentioned a few of the notable records that weren’t among the two-hundred and twenty-eight that would play in that mythical jukebox. Some of them were likely surprises. Two of them –  Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” – were in fact the last records trimmed. And I should note that I’ve only replaced one of them for sure: I have one slot that I’m keeping as quasi-available among the six selections for Week 38, the last week of this tour. I have a record in that slot right now, but if something comes into view that I think works better, I’m reserving the right to switch it. That might even turn out to be “Baker Street” after all. But the other two-hundred and twenty-seven songs are set.

What eras do they come from? Well, the earliest was released in 1948, and there are three from 1999, the last year I examined. Even before I count, I’m certain that the years 1969 and 1970 will be heavily represented. Let’s take a look:

1948: 1
1949: 0
From the 1940s: One

1950: 0
1951: 1
1952: 1
1953: 0
1954: 0
1955: 0
1956: 0
1957: 1
1958: 3
1959: 2
From the 1950s: Eight

1960: 0
1961: 3
1962: 0
1963: 2
1964: 2
1965: 4
1966: 6
1967: 7
1968: 13
1969: 23
From the 1960s: Sixty

1970: 32
1971: 15
1972: 17
1973: 12
1974: 9
1975: 11
1976: 10
1977: 5
1978: 7
1979: 3
From the 1970s: One-hundred and twenty-one

1980: 3
1981: 2
1982: 3
1983: 3
1984: 3
1985: 0
1986: 3
1987: 2
1988: 3
1989: 0
From the 1980s: Twenty-two

1990: 1
1991: 2
1992: 2
1993: 4
1994: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1
1997: 1
1998: 0
1999: 3
From the 1990s: Sixteen

So there you have it: Massive domination by the 1970s, with the period 1968-1976 providing one-hundred and forty-two of the two-hundred and twenty-eight records – about sixty-two percent – of the tunes in my Ultimate Jukebox. Is this a surprise? Anyway, here’s the second cluster of six songs:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 2
“Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers from Realization [1967]
“Black Diamond” by the Bee Gees from Odessa [1969]
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3 [1973]
“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds and Rust [1975]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Born To Run [1975]

More than forty years after the fact, it might be difficult to realize, and instructive to do so, that the acid-folk rock of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was once revolutionary. Today, even the crunchy chords of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – the album’s heaviest sounds, by my reckoning – are pretty mellow. Back in 1968, when my sister brought the record home, however, I thought it was a little loud. But there was one moment of mellow bliss on the record: “Comin’ Back To Me.” Hushed, lyrical, thoughtful and heart-breaking, “Comin’ Back To Me” just might be the oft-ignored heart of Surrealistic Pillow. Key lines: “Strollin’ the hill overlooking the shore, I realize I have been here before. The shadow in the mist could have been anyone. I saw you. I saw you comin’ back to me.”

I’ve written before about “Summer Rain,” although none of those words are easily accessible. I don’t know for sure why the record remains among the top four or five of all time for me. Part of it, I think, is the descending bass line in the verse, a compositional technique – some might call it a gimmick – that always pulls me into a song. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the story the song tells is a happy one: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl (with the help of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), boy wins girl. And part of the attraction is the way Rivers sells the song. In a long career filled with good performances, this might be Rivers’ best. Like the vast majority of the versions of “Summer Rain” found in hits packages, the version here is pulled from the album Realization. Thus, it includes the storm sound effects before the guitar figure opens the music, and it fades out before more sound effects arise to connect to the next track on the album. According to regular reader Yah Shure, the single – released in late 1967, about six months before the album (and which went to No. 14) – had no sound effects, opening with the guitar figure. Key lines: “We sailed into the sunset, drifted home caught by a gulfstream. Never gave a thought for tomorrow. Just let tomorrow be.”

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide called the Bee Gees’ Odessa “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” adding parenthetically, “the Bee Gees’ wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.” I’ve puzzled over that statement for more than ten years now, and I’m still not sure what reviewer Paul Evans was trying to say. But that’s okay: I’ve been listening to Odessa for more than forty years now, and I’m not entirely certain what the Bee Gees were trying to say, either. I shared the album here once, which indicates, generally, the regard I have for it. But there is no doubt that the album is studded with ballads whose lyrics are willfully obscure at best. “Black Diamond” might be the most obscure of all, but the opaque lyrics are offset by music so eloquently gorgeous that it might not matter at all what the Brothers Gibb are singing about. Key lines, I think: “And I won’t die, so don’t cry. I’ll be home. Those big black diamonds that lie there for me, by the tall white mountains which lie by the sea.”

The Isley Brothers’ reimagining of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is a marvel. The original had been, of course, a folk-rock/singer-songwriter-type hit, anchored by a sweet instrumental hook and truly beautiful harmonies. The Isleys found the R&B song inside the pop-folk record and stretched it for more than six minutes. And maybe it’s just me, but I find a sonic connection between the Isleys’ version of “Summer Breeze” and two versions of “Strawberry Letter 23,” those being Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single, which predated the Isleys’ work, and the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 cover of Otis’ song. Whatever the sonic influences in any direction, “Summer Breeze” finds a sweet groove. The Isleys released a single with the album track split into parts one and two, but neither side hit the Top 40. (I have a hunch that the two-sided single might have done well on the R&B chart; does anyone out there know?) Key lines: “Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening, when the day is through.”

The album Diamonds & Rust was released in April 1975, but it wasn’t until the following autumn, I would guess, that I became aware of its extraordinary title song. The record became one of my student union jukebox favorites that fall, and it did pretty well in other areas, as well, as it went to No. 35 in the Billboard Top 40, only the second Baez single to do that well. (The first was her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which went to No. 3 during the late summer and autumn of 1971.) Musically and lyrically, “Diamonds & Rust” is quite simply the best thing Joan Baez ever wrote or recorded. The shimmering music is perfect for her unsentimental, guarded and affectionate reliving of her affair with Bob Dylan. Baez’ intimacy with the topic – as opposed to the seemingly reflexive distance she’d frequently placed between herself and even the most intimate of songs – pulls listeners into her world and helps us understand her place in a pairing that was momentous to both Baez and Dylan at a time when their work was helping to defining an era. (For a take on that topic from Dylan, whose work can often be more difficult to penetrate than a black curtain, I turn to – as starting points – “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde On Blonde.) Key lines: “Our breath comes out white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.”

I have seven versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in my collection, including an alternate take from 1975, some live versions (including a killer acoustic version I once shared) and a bootleg or two. All have their attractions, but I keep coming back to the original, the version that led off Side Two of the Born To Run album. And the song grabs hold of me tighter and tighter as the years go by. It’s not the tale of the mythical backstreets that holds me, although I have some affection for the kids huddled on the beach in the mist. It’s the pure sonic audacity of the song that pulls me in time and again, the young Springsteen’s ambition for musical significance that’s almost as audible as that great count-in just before the last verse. Then consider that Springsteen has almost certainly exceeded his ambitions over the thirty-five years since “Born To Run” went to No. 23, and one realizes that “Born To Run” (and the rest of the LP, of course) was neither wish nor hope nor dream but a statement of intent. (Writer and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh had the same reaction; while reviewing Born To Run in the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, he said: “clarity of purpose and mammoth ambition drip from the grooves.”) Key lines: “Will you walk with me out on the wire, ’cause baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider. But I gotta find out how it feels. I want to know if love is wild, girl, I want to know if love is real.”

Note:
Regular readers – and I have to assume they’ll find this new location – will observe that I’ve changed my approach slightly. I think all my readers will understand. 

–whiteray