Posts Tagged ‘Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts’

Saturday Single No. 647

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

The last days of June and the first days of July often put me in mind of the state trap shoot, the event that used to take place at the gun club just southeast of St. Cloud every year, the place where I first earned what felt like real money during the summers of 1968, 1969 and 1970. Here, slightly edited, is a piece I wrote in the spring of 2007:

There weren’t a lot of ways for a kid to make money in St. Cloud when the 1960s were turning into the 1970s. Supposedly, you could work when you turned sixteen, but with a state college in the city and two small private colleges within twelve miles, there were plenty of college-age kids available for employers; younger kids didn’t get many of the jobs.

I suppose there were paper routes, and one always saw ads in the back of comic books for stuff that could be sold door-to-door, but I never tried any of those. My first crack at any kind of employment was a hot, dirty, somewhat dangerous job that I got through my pal Rick.

There was – still is, for that matter – a gun club southeast of the city that hosted the state trap shooting championships every year in early to mid-July. Rick went to school with one of the club owner’s sons and worked at the gun club for various events. By the summer of 1968, he managed to get me a job at the gun club for the four days of the state trap shoot. I was what they called a “setter.”

Trap shooting, as you might know, involves contestants with shotguns trying to shoot clay targets that fly through the air, propelled there by a machine located in a small structure dug into the earth. It was my job to sit in one of those little structures for about ten to twelve hours a day. After the whirring machine threw each target out into the open for the contestants to aim at, I took another clay target – called a “bird” – from the stack in front of me and placed it on the machine’s arm, which oscillated slightly from right to left to provide differing angles for the bird’s trajectory.

The small pit was filled with boxes full of birds, and along with making sure to place a new bird on the machine every fifteen seconds or so, I had to open the cardboard boxes and make certain I had access to more birds when the stack from which I was currently working ran out.

Every once in a while, I’d be a little slow getting the bird onto the machine, and the throwing arm would hit the bird as I was lowering it in place, shattering it and leaving me worrying about the safety of my hand. If that happened too many times, the gun club manager would mention it, not out of concern for my hand but out of concern for the convenience of the shooters, who were annoyed when their call for a target brought no target. It was even worse during the doubles competition, when a setter had to get two birds onto the machine, first with one hand, then with the other.

A sonic digression: The traditional call for a target is for the shooter to shout out the word “pull,” probably from the time when targets – live birds at one time – were released by the pull of a rope. Shooters tend to develop their own versions of that traditional call, much in the same way umpires develop their own calls for strikes and balls. It’s hard to guess how to spell some of the sounds I heard shooters use as they called for a target, but this is what some of them sounded like: “Wheeeeeeeeeent!” “Poooooooooooowell!” “Hrant!” “Houp!” “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” And so on. Some of them, of course, just said, “Pull!”

I only got to hear the shooters for a limited time, during my three or four breaks a day. The vast majority of the time, I was down in the pit, unpacking boxes of birds and setting them on the machine arm. I did that for, as I said, ten to twelve hours a day for the four-day run of the trap shoot. It was boring, and it was dirty, as the targets were made out of what I would guess was some kind of petrochemical mix that resulted in a substance very much like hard tar. I’d come out of the pit at night with my face and hands covered with the thick black dust the birds gave off. There was something toxic in the dust, so that about a week after the trap shoot, the skin on my face would turn dark and brittle and then peel off in wide strips. I doubt if it did much good for my long-term health.

So why do it? Well, as I said, there weren’t a lot of ways for kids to make money back then. And I got $40 for my first state shoot in 1968, $50 in 1969 and $60 in 1970, pretty good money for four days back then, when the minimum wage was less than $1.50 an hour. I don’t recall what I did with the cash from the other two years, but in 1969, I used my money to buy a cassette tape recorder.

So why am I writing about the state trap shoot and toxic clay birds? Because one of the ways in which we setters – those of us consigned to the pits with their oscillating machines – kept our sanity was by bringing radios. Tuned for the most part to KBWB, one of the two Top 40 stations in the Twin Cities, our radios gave us at least something to listen to above the whirr of the machine and the sound of shotguns going of along the line all day long.

As a result, there are songs that I call “trap shoot songs.” Those are songs that I either heard for the first time or else heard so frequently during a trap shoot, that when I hear them now, fifty years later, I am for an instant back down in that dusty pit, keeping a stack of birds in front of me, taking advantage of a lull to open a new box of birds and doing my best to make sure that the whirling arm of the trap machine does not have a chance to whack at my fingers as I place another bird.

Some of those songs are: “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells, “Make It With You” by Bread, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War, and “Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric.

And with that, I posted a rip of the Pacific Gas & Electric album Are You Ready. But the list of trap shoot songs could have gone on longer. A quick look at the Billboard Hot 100s and some KDWB surveys from the first weeks of July in 1968, 1969 and 1970 yield a quick list of some of the other records that remind me of my time in the pits.

From 1968:
“Sky Pilot (Part 1)” by Eric Burdon & The Animals
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“Angel Of The Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts

From 1969:
“In The Year 2525” by Zager & Evans
“Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces
“Grazing In The Grass” by the Friends Of Distinction
“Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy

From 1970:
“Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton

Well, if we consider all the singles listed here as candidates for today’s listening, we have riches. After a little bit of research, I’ve figured out that the Merilee Rush single has been mentioned in this space four times and offered here once, back in early 2007. It deserves better.

So here’s “Angel Of The Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts from 1968. It peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100 and went to No. 37 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.