Posts Tagged ‘Leon Russell’

‘That Big Eight-Wheeler . . .’

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.

My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.

As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.

In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!

Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).

There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.

Saturday Single No. 326

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

While I was wandering around the Intertubes listening to versions of “Spanish Harlem” earlier this week, I was keeping an eye out for Leon Russell’s 1974 cover of the Jerry Leiber/Phil Spector tune. I wasn’t sure that Leon’s Oklahoma drawl would work well with the song’s intricate and (I’m pretty sure) syncopated melody, but I was interested in seeing how the track came out.

Leon’s cover of “Spanish Harlem” was, I knew, on his Stop All That Jazz album, and I was pretty sure that the LP was on the stacks just six feet away. But I was also pretty sure that the album was one of those I bought during my six-year frenzy in the 1990s, and I thought the vinyl might not be in the best shape. So I wandered the ’Net for a while. There was no video of the track at YouTube, and there were no versions of the track offered at either iTunes or Amazon.

I did notice that Stop All That Jazz has been released twice on CD, in 1990 and in 1995. No new copies of the 1990 edition are available at Amazon, but seven used copies are available, with prices starting at $35.86 and going up to $66.95. Seven copies of the cassette version of the 1990 release are listed for sale, with three of them new copies priced at less than fifteen bucks and the others – new and used – ranging from $62.30 to $74.98, which tells me that, as of this morning, there are three bargains out there for those who collect cassettes (and the cluster of high prices tells me that there certainly must be such people still today).

The second CD release of Stop All That Jazz is also pricy. Two new copies of the 1995 CD start at $154.39, and seven used copies start at $27.99. Just to be complete, used copies of the 1974 LP start at $4.98 and go up to $58.41.

With no mp3 of the track yet in hand, I hit some of the back streets of the Internet with no result. Finally, I thought that I should take a look at my own LP. It did in fact land on my shelves during my years of vinyl madness; I bought it on June 11, 1999, for $3.75, and the price tag on the front tells me that I likely bought it at a shop on Nicollet Avenue about a mile away from my Pleasant Avenue digs. That encouraged me as I pulled the vinyl from the jacket, as the used records I got there were generally in very good shape.

The record looked pretty good. I gave it a quick cleaning and laid it on the turntable, then opened up the Audacity audio program and cued up the track. And that’s when I learned that Leon Russell’s cover of “Spanish Harlem” is an instrumental, and a pretty nice one, at that.

And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 275

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Last week, noting that we finally have snow on the ground during this odd winter, I wrote, “Unless there are some utterly unseasonal days ahead of us, I imagine we will have snow on the ground for the next six weeks.”

Well, those unseasonable days have been here, we have more coming this weekend, and the snow won’t last much longer. The average high temperature on a January day in St. Cloud is about 21 degrees Fahrenheit (about -6 degrees Celsius), and the average high temperature here for a February day is 28 (about -2 Celsius). We had a chilly Sunday (a high of 18/-8C), but since then, we’ve been cruising at or above freezing, and this weekend – or so say the prognosticators at WeatherBug – will see us with high temperatures right around 40 (4 C).

As John Lennon says: “Strange days indeed, Momma!”

We have very little snow on the ground right now, which is an odd thing for the beginning of February. That’s a bonus for the squirrels, who don’t have to dig very deep to retrieve edibles buried underground. But in the next three days or so, even that slender barrier of snow will melt away, leaving our squirrel friends even closer to their dinners.

We may yet have a bitter cold snap, and we may yet have snow fall deep enough that my neighbors and I have to shovel the walks rather than let the sun do our work for us. But I’m skeptical. I think this will remain a strange winter until the March solstice. And at that point, I would not be surprised if we find ourselves living through a strange spring.

And here, in search of a single for today, is a random walk after which we – Odd and Pop and I – will select one of these six strange songs:

In 1957, the duo of Mickey & Sylvia had a No. 11 hit with “Love is Strange,” and ten years later, Peaches & Herb took the same song to No. 13. The version that pops up here this morning is the very sweet 1992 cover by Everything But The Girl from the equally likeable album Acoustic.

Next up is “Strange & Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You)” by Matt Hale, the British singer-songwriter who calls himself Aqualung. Originally found as the lead track to Aqualung’s self-titled British debut in 2002, it showed up here in the U.S. on the 2005 album Strange and Beautiful. It’s languorous, hypnotic and lovely.

Our third stop brings us into familiar territory from old times: The Doors’ “People Are Strange” came from the group’s second album, “Strange Days.” The track was released as a single and went to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. More than forty years later, familiarity with the record allows its music to slide in and out of my ears too easily. But with a little concentration, I can still hear the echo of the record’s oddness – especially the honky-tonk piano solo – that grabbed my attention the first time I heard it in the wayback long ago.

“Strange and Foreign Land” is a track from Fanning the Flames, a 1996 album by Maria Muldaur.  The album, says All-Music Guide, is a musical gumbo that includes blues, gospel, soul and R&B in a combination that – AMG says – Muldaur calls “blusiana.” “Strange and Foreign Land” falls in the gospel column and provides one more bit of proof of something that hasn’t needed proving for a long time: Muldaur can flat-out sing. The album went to No. 14 on the Billboard blues album chart, and it’s worth a listen.

Next up is “Stranger Responds” by Stranger Jones, about whom I know nothing except that he has a website where I must have downloaded some free tracks from his 1999 album Lurks the Shark. Piano-driven (with a heavy back-beat), “Stranger Responds” doesn’t sound like 1999; it has echoes of the late 1960s and the early-1970s. In fact, it puts me in mind in places of the work that Lee Michaels (“Do You Know What I Mean,” “Can I Get A Witness?”) was doing around that time. Jones’ delivery is a bit pinched, and I suppose “Stranger Responds” might be an acquired taste, but I like it.

And then  Leon Russell sings:

How many days has it been since I was born?
How many days till I die?
Do I know any way that I can make you laugh?
Do I only know how to make you cry?

The song is “Stranger in a Strange Land” from Russell’s 1971 album Leon Russell & The Shelter People. Some of the Shelter People were pretty well known. Those on “Stranger” included Don Preston, Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell and Claudia Lennear; other tracks on the album had work from, among others, Jesse Ed David, Jim Keltner, Barry Beckett and the other guys from Muscle Shoals, Chris Stainton, Jim Price and Jim Gordon. Taking its title from the Robert A. Heinlein novel that was seemingly required reading for any thinking young person in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the song’s lyrics are a little bit of a mish-mash, mixing utopian idealism with existential angst. But it sounds pretty good, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Chart Digging: Late August 1972

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

A couple of days ago, an online news site – it might have been the Christian Science Monitor; I’m not sure – asked readers to list their most memorable astronomical sights. The comments covered a lot of ground: Some comets (Halley’s and Hale-Bopp were, I think, the most frequently mentioned), an eclipse here or there, some meteor showers, and a couple of mentions of the Northern Lights.

That’s what I mentioned in my comment, the Northern Lights. The moment came in August 1972, when Rick, Gary and I camped under the stars during the first night of our trip to Winnipeg. We’d emptied a few cans of beer that evening in the provincial campground, and we were a bit wobbly as we unrolled our sleeping bags onto a tarp sometime after midnight.

A little bit later – maybe an hour, maybe two – Rick poked me as I slept. I rolled over. “What?”

He pointed to the sky. I put on my glasses and saw the Northern Lights rolling and rippling in shades of blue and green. I’d seen the aurora borealis before, but only on the distant horizon; this time, the lights danced across half the sky, stretching from the northern horizon to straight above us. We couldn’t rouse Gary, so Rick and I watched the eerie spectacle for a while, then went back to sleep.

That’s the most memorable single moment of that four-day trip. For me, nothing else quite touched those minutes lying on the dark prairie ground with the curtains of light waving above us.

Except for that moment, the trip was your standard road trip for three young men: We saw some museums, some music shops, a zoo, and bits of a downtown music festival. On our way home, we spent a few hours in a campground with two girls from Okemos, Michigan, who were traveling with their folks. (And why I remember Okemos, Michigan, I have no idea.) We drank a bit more beer on that first night than we should have. And we listened to a lot of music as we drove something like 1,200 miles.

We had a few tapes – the new Rolling Stones hits package Hot Rocks chief among them – but we generally saved the batteries in the tape player for the evenings in the campgrounds and in the motel in Winnipeg. On the road, we were able to find a listenable Top 40 station pretty much anywhere we were. As a result, the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1972 (released August 26) is filled with very familiar records:

“Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass
“Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” by the Hollies
“I’m Still In Love With You” by Al Green
“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent
“(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” by Luther Ingram
“Goodbye to Love” by the Carpenters
Coconut” by Nilsson
“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce
“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis

That Top Ten might set a record for the most record titles with parentheses. And, even with Nilsson’s silliness, it’s a good set. I – like many, I imagine – got tired of “Alone Again (Naturally)” that summer when it was No. 1 for six weeks, but now, it’s a nice period piece. And when the others show up during random play, they’re all very welcome here.

So, too, are some things found lower in the Hot 100 that was released thirty-nine years ago this week. And looking into a record found at No. 71 brought me one of the more interesting bits I’ve found in digging through charts, so we’ll go there first and then backtrack a little.

Jerry Wallace was a pop/country singer who was born in Missouri and raised in Arizona. From 1958 into 1972, he put seventeen records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section; the best-performing of those was “Primrose Lane,” which went to No. 8 in 1959. His success on the country chart covers a few different years; he hit the Country Top 40 nineteen times between 1965 and 1978. During the summer of 1972, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry” hit both charts, starting out on the country chart – where it spent two weeks at No. 1 – and moving to the pop chart, where it peaked at No. 38. What piqued my interest was the fine-print note under the song’s listing in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “From TV’s Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Tune in Dan’s Café.”

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery was an extension of the idea of Serling’s late-1950s and early 1960s classic show The Twilight Zone: Tales of the odd, eerie, macabre and unexplainable. Instead of The Twilight Zone’s one episode presented in thirty minutes (sixty minutes in the case of several episodes in 1963), Night Gallery presented three tales in an hour (changed to one tale in thirty-minutes in its last season, 1972-73). The show ran more or less weekly, based on what I see at Wikipedia, and it was during the January 5, 1972, show that viewers saw ‘The Tune in Dan’s Café.”

The tune in question was Wallace’s “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry,” and the piece was centered around a jukebox in a small town bar and restaurant. I’ll say no more about the episode, except to note that its use of the record no doubt boosted the record’s sales. And Wallace’s position on the country chart wasn’t hurt, either: his next hit, “Do You Know What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” went to No. 2, and he was a regular presence in the country Top 40, with a couple more Top Ten hits, into 1978.

As to “The Tune in Dan’s Café,” it’s available on YouTube in two parts. Here’s the first part. (The link to Part 2 can then be found in the suggested links that follow.)

Video deleted.

Joey Heatherton was a movie and television actress who did some singing, and I’m always surprised to see her pop up in the 1970s because I tend to lump her with Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens and a number of other young women who were similar performers during the late 1950s and early 1960s. But Heatherton was of the next generation, and in late August 1972, her cover of “Gone” – made famous by Ferlin Husky’s No 1 country hit in 1957 – was at No. 35, coming down after peaking at No. 24. Later in the year, Heatherton’s “I’m Sorry” – a cover of the tune made famous by Brenda Lee in 1960 – went to No. 87. Both singles came from The Joey Heatherton Album, an album that All-Music Guide likes a fair amount. (The album was released in an expanded version on CD in 2004 with a racy picture of Heatherton on the cover.)

The band Uriah Heep had one Top 40 hit: “Easy Livin’” was at No. 54 and was climbing up the chart during this week in August 1972. The record would peak at No. 39, by far the best-performing single for the English band; three other records would peak in the 90s, and one more would bubble under. But “Easy Livin’” deserved its place. In a time of singer-songwriter confessionals, light pop, Hi Records-type soul and lots of other mellow sounds, the Uriah Heep single was without doubt one of the toughest things coming out of the Top 40 speakers at the time. I was a mellow kind of guy myself in a lot of ways at the time – I was just beginning to dig into Eric Clapton and related musicians that summer and I was still more than a year away from the Allmans – but I loved “Easy Livin’” as it thundered out of the car radio, pulling us up the highway toward Winnipeg and beer.

The Janis Joplin remembrance “In The Quiet Morning” was written by Mimi Fariña and first appeared on Take Heart, a 1971 album she recorded with Tom Jans. In 1972, Joan Baez – Fariña’s sister – recorded the tune for her album Come From the Shadows and released the tune as a single. By the fourth week of August, the record was at No. 73. It would climb only a little higher, to No. 69, before falling back down the chart. Baez would have two more singles reach the pop chart: In 1975 “Blue Sky” would go to No. 57 and “Diamonds and Rust” would go to No. 35. (Before that, she’d had five singles hit the chart, with her 1971 cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” going to No. 3.) Whatever its chart failures, “In The Quiet Morning” is nicely done.

I’ve written about Leon Russell before, but the success in the past year of The Union, the CD he recorded with Elton John, has had me reviewing the work I knew by Russell and digging at least a little bit into the stuff I missed along the way. So when “Tight Rope” popped up at No. 82 in the Hot 100 from August 26, 1972, I knew I had to present it here. The record was in its first week on the chart, and it would peak at No. 11, by far the best performance on the pop chart of any Leon Russell single. (“Lady Blue” went to No. 14 in 1975; eight other Russell singles peaked in the lower half of the Hot 100 or bubbled under. He did hit No. 1 on the country chart in 1979 via a duet with Willie Nelson on “Heartbreak Hotel.”) I can’t say “Tight Rope” is my favorite Leon Russell track. Of the singles, I’d probably choose “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” which went to No. 105 in 1971; from the other studio tracks, I’d take “Beware of Darkness” from 1971’s Leon Russell & The Shelter People, but my favorite Leon Russell performance of all time is his “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley from The Concert for Bangla Desh.

The ills of society were always fair game for musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but a record addressing those ills that I’d never heard until recently popped up in the Hot 100 we’re looking at today: “A Piece of Paper” by the Texas group Gladstone. In short order, the group takes on marriage, religion, abortion (this was while abortion was still widely illegal in the U.S.) and war. Talk about a multi-purpose protest song! The record was at No. 99 during the week in question and would peak at No. 45. It was Gladstone’s only appearance on the pop chart.

Saturday Single No. 176

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

In the absence of more compelling things to write about and in the presence of a chores list that’s getting longer by the hour, I’m not going to sit here at the computer and dither about how to select a single for this morning.

Instead, I’m going to return to one of my favorite methods of finding a song and take a thirteen–step random walk through the files. That should work fine, as it did last week. Well, as long as I don’t turn Booker T. Jones into Booker T. Washington again. Here are this week’s parameters: I’ll use the time frame of 1950-2009 and I will skip over anything planned for the Ultimate Jukebox.

Speaking of the Ultimate Jukebox, long-time readers might want to make sure they stop by Monday. There’s good news for a friend of Echoes In The Wind whose music has been featured here in the past, and I’m going to tie that news in with the next installment of the UJ. Now, on with the random ramble:

First up is “Every Day (Oh Lord)” from Steve Winwood’s 1990 album, Refugees of the Heart. It’s a pretty good song from an album that I think disappointed a lot of people. It’s a record I’m ambivalent about. I don’t go looking for it when I’m pulling stuff out of the CD rack, but when something from Refugees pops up in the player, it usually sounds pretty good.

Next comes the British duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill recording as Broadcast and the tune “Tears In The Typing Pool” from their 2005 album Tender Buttons. I know very little about these folks, but I ran across the album and liked the tone of the music. All-Music Guide says: “Tender Buttons has a uniquely fresh, modern feel. Sparingly applied beats, intricate but subtle guitars, and hazy synths dominate the album, providing a restrained backdrop for Keenan’s quietly commanding voice and crossword-puzzle lyrics.”

When I noted last summer that I’d never sat down and listened straight through to the Cars’ 1984 album Heartbeat City, several friends urged me to do so. Well, I have, and yes, it’s a good album, but no, it’s not going to move anything out of my Top 30 list. With the exception of the shimmering “Drive,” I find the album just too, well, self-conscious. That holds true for the next-to-last track on the album, our third stop of the morning, “I Refuse.”

Sandy Denny and the Strawbs did some recording during the summer of 1968, and the results have been released as All Our Own Work. But the album released in 1968 under Sandy Denny’s name from those sessions is a little different from the one released under that title by the Strawbs in 1973. Some track are new, and those that are common are presented in different orders (and that’s not taking into account the alternate tracks added in the CD version of Denny’s album). The 1983 edition of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll has both albums listed under the years cited above. Without digging into things a bit more, it still sounds odd to me. Anyway, our fourth stop of the morning is “All I Need Is You” a nice bit of Britfolk from the Sandy Denny album that was written by Strawbs’ leader Dave Cousins.

Another performer whose work I haven’t quite absorbed is Nick Drake, the Brit who released three well-regarded folkish albums in the 1970s before dying in 1974, possibly at his own hand. I’ve got all three albums in various formats, and dip into them on occasion. Of the three, I prefer the middle child, Bryter Later, and that’s where we find our next tune, “Hazey Jane II,” a song that seems more muscular than most of Drake’s work, probably because of the horn chart.

And our sixth tune of the morning is one of the classics of soul: Ray Charles doing “Unchain My Heart,” a 1961 release. All I can do is tap my feet and wonder how I missed this one while I was putting together the list for the Ultimate Jukebox.

Sometime back – two sites ago, I think – I offered up Can’t Stop The Madness, the 1973 album by the all-female group Birtha. It was one of the more popular albums I posted, probably due to its rarity as well as the quality of the performance. Anyway, “Rock Me” pops up this morning, and for a few moments the study sounds like 1973, which isn’t an awful year in which to spend a few moments.

I had no idea who Carolyn Lavelle was when I saw a copy of her first CD at a thrift store years ago, but the cover intrigued me, and it was cheap. AMG says: “Caroline LaVelle’s 1995 debut Spirit elicited instant comparisons to Enya for its combination of breathy vocals, pop song structures, and glistening, new age, electronic-tinged arrangements. That comparison, unfortunately, may scare off some listeners who would like LaVelle. Her music is far more somber, and less inclined to fairytale, mythic ambience. Her voice, too, is far deeper and more reserved, eschewing the pristine preciousness of Enya that some find too cloying.” Having listened a fair amount to that first CD, I tend to agree. Our eighth stop of the day is “Turning Ground” from Spirit.

I’ve written occasionally about Cris Williamson, the singer/songwriter who was one of the first women performers in the 1970s to openly acknowledge that she was a lesbian. As I wrote once, had she come along two decades later, her career would likely have been far different and her fame wider. But based on what little I know of Williamson – from a bit of reading and a good deal of listening – she’s not all that interested in playing the game of “might have been.” This morning, the player settles on “Song of the Soul” from The Changer and the Changed, a 1975 release generally regarded as Williamson’s best work.

The immense number of soundtracks that Randy Newman has composed boggles the mind. This morning, the randomizer drops onto a brief segment – “Sarah’s Responsibility” – from Newman’s score for the 1981 film Ragtime. And that’s ten so far.

Before he hit it big (in Denmark, at least), my favorite Danish artist Sebastian released a 1970 album of folk-rock in English titled The Goddess. The seeming centerpiece of the album is a tune called “Babe, I Can Carry Your Tombstone,” which sounds more like Bob Dylan than anything else the young Dane recorded at the time. It’s an interesting period piece for me or anyone else interested in Nordic folk rock.

During the summer of 1974, as disco was beginning to develop its dancing legs, George McCrae had a No. 1 hit with “Rock Your Baby,” and as that catchy tune shimmies to its ending, it brings us to our destination for this morning: our thirteenth selection.

The credits for Leon Russell’s self-titled debut album from 1970 are – from the distance of forty years – astounding: Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Eric Clapton, Merry Clayton, Joe Cocker, Jim Gordon, George Harrison, Jim Horn, Mick Jagger, Clydie King, Chris Stainton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann, Charlie Watts, B.J. Wilson, Steve Winwood and Bill Wyman. (Wilson’s is certainly the least-known name there; he was the drummer for Procol Harum.) And there’s really not much more to say. Here’s today’s Saturday Single:

“Roll Away The Stone” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell [1970]