Posts Tagged ‘Smith’

Visualizing Sabres

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

I imagine it was sometime in February 1970 that I was doodling on my drawing pad, considering the recently announced nickname – the Sabres – of the new National Hockey League team based in Buffalo, New York.

And as I doodled, several threads of my life were coming together.

A few years earlier, probably sometime in late 1967, I’d wandered across the street to Rick and Rob’s house. Rick wasn’t home, but Rob was busy considering nicknames for teams he’d made up as members of sports leagues he’d created. One of them, I recall, was the Akron Hubs, with the nickname playing on the Ohio city’s prominence in the tire trade. Another was for a fictional college, the College of Cosmos & Damien, whose athletic teams would be called the Trumpeters.

He also, I think, showed me a basketball card game designed to be played either solitaire or with two players.

Being a newly hatched sports fan, all of that fascinated me, and I soon had my own basketball card game and began putting together lists of team names. I also began thinking about logos. In that year of 1967, as I’ve noted before, two new professional sports teams came to Minnesota, the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League and the Minnesota Muskies of the American Basketball Association. I followed the two teams, but more than that, I found myself considering the thought and design that went into naming the teams and then crafting their logos.

Then, after the Minnesota Muskies’ first season ended, the team announced it was moving to Miami, where it would be called the Floridians. Sometime during the summer of 1968, I looked at the map of Florida, and I envisioned a basketball flying out of Miami northeast like a comet or a hurricane, then curving around behind the state and coming out under the panhandle. And I sat down with my crude tools – a compass, an atlas and some colored pencils – and created a logo for the Miami Floridians. I don’t recall what colors I used, but I remember that it was a pretty raw piece of work. Nevertheless, I found the address for the newly relocated basketball team and mailed my creation off.

And here’s what came in the mail that August:

And here’s the logo the Floridians chose:

I filed the letter away and started making logos for my own fictional teams. I had a couple of basketball leagues of eight teams each (one using my card game and the other a simple dice game I invented), and then I expanded: I divided the U.S. into seven regions and used Canada as the eighth region to conduct a national basketball tournament. Each region had sixteen teams, and I pored over the atlas to find towns small and large to enter into the tourney; when a team reached its regional semifinals, it was awarded a nickname. If it won its region, it got a logo. The number of logos in my file – a file I have sitting behind me on a table as I write – increased rapidly.

I don’t know which I enjoyed more: playing the individual games of the tournament, watching the progress of the various teams through the tournament, selecting the nicknames for the regional semifinalists, or crafting the logos of the eight regional champions. All of it fed my soul. I eventually played five annual tournaments, with the last one coming during my sophomore year of college.

It was at the midpoint of that five-year run, in 1970, that I found myself one evening doodling as I considered how one might illustrate the team name of the Buffalo Sabres, a team that would begin play in the National Hockey League that autumn. I sketched a large and somewhat ornate capital B, and a little while later, I had what we would these days call a concept:

I made another version of it, this time making the blade of the sabre white, so the “uffalo” was more clearly visible. And I sent it off to Buffalo. A few weeks later, I got a letter:

I was pretty pleased just to have been noticed. And, yes, given the final portion of the letter, I must have asked if I should continue designing logos. I don’t recall doing so, but I think I was truly asking for an honest opinion. (Really, though, what was Mr. Burr going to say to a sixteen-year-old kid?)

A couple of years later, in 1973, I quit making logos, quit my annual basketball tournament and pretty much quit creating imaginary teams. I’ve resumed in recent years, taking a tabletop baseball game – not Strat-O-Matic, but a different one – and creating a league that over the course of almost thirty years has grown to eighteen teams. I’ve used Word to create the logos, which is kind of limiting, but good enough for now. Here’s one of them.

Getting back to 1970, I remember wondering on evenings in my room if the Buffalo Sabres would respond to me at all. I’m sure the radio was playing as I wondered, tuned to either KDWB or WLS or WJON just across the railroad tracks. So what would I have heard? Well, I would have heard many records that are now, as I often say, old friends, and I certainly heard some that I have long since forgotten. One of those forgotten until recent years was “Take A Look Around” by Smith. During this week in 1970, the record was at No. 31 on KDWB’s “6+30” survey; it would top off at No. 22 a couple of weeks later (and at No. 43 in the Billboard charts).

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Back To The Jukebox

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I think that every once in a while as I explore the Ultimate Jukebox, I’m just going to let the selections go on stage without an opening act.

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 3
“Baby It’s You” by Smith, Dunhill 4206 [1969]
“I’ll Be Long Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs [1969]
“All Right Now” by Free from Fire & Water [1970]
“Guilty” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time [1973]
“Take Me Home” by Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle from the One From The Heart soundtrack [1982]
“Under the Milky Way” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

I’ve written before about Smith and “Baby It’s You,” and I know my blogging friend jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has as well. So without digging into my Word files, I’m not sure whether a reference held in memory will be mine or his or maybe someone else’s. Either way, the record – a cover of the Shirelles’ 1962 hit – was a tasty and thick slice of organ-dominated pop-rock, laced with chunky guitar and topped with the sweet and gritty voice of Gayle McCormick. The record – pulled from the album A Group Called Smith – went to No. 5 in the autumn of 1969, the only hit for the Los Angeles-based band. The video I found shows a television performance on which, I believe, McCormick sings live to a canned background. Key lines: “It doesn’t matter what they say. I know I’m gonna love you any old way.”

For most people, I suppose, the highlight of Boz Scaggs’ self-titled 1969 album, his first solo work after his years with the Steve Miller Band, was the long blues number “Loan Me A Dime,” on which he, the Muscle Shoals crew and Duane Allman simmer for a long time and finally boil over. But every time I listen to Boz Scaggs, that astounding set of performances is challenged for the top spot by the record’s second track, “I’ll Be Long Gone,” which starts in a contemplative mood before shifting into its own up-tempo statement of purpose. Key lines: Good luck with your path/But it wasn’t built to last/Or we might take it differently.”

In an art form where macho postures abound – and they’ve done so in every generation, from the leers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry onward – one of the more blatant macho statements was Free’s “All Right Now,” which came ripping out of radio speakers during the late summer and early autumn of 1970 on its way to No. 4.  Dave Marsh nails the record perfectly in The Heart of Rock & Soul when he calls it “Cock rock extraordinaire,” noting that “All Right Now” is “the apotheosis of the form, as unrelenting as a hard hat’s street corner come-ons.” And yes, the narrator’s approach to the young lady in question is brash and clumsy and self-involved. But you know she had to love the guitar hook and the chorus. Even if she did nothing else with the guy, she had to play air guitar and sing along with him. Or maybe not. Key lines: “She said ‘Love?’ Lord above, now you’re tryin’ to trick me in love.”

As I’ve noted before while writing about Bonnie Raitt’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” the opening chords by pianist Bill Payne always make me slow down, close my eyes and travel in time. I first heard the song through the wall of the hostel room where I lived during half of my college year in Denmark, as one of the girls in Room 6 had the song on a mixtape someone had sent her from home. And in the many years since then, no matter where I am, the song places me for at least an instant in my room in the middle of a winter night with the muted sounds of “Guilty” seeping through the wall with its mix of sadness and resignation. I heard the song so frequently during my four-month stay at the hostel that Raitt’s recording, as I wrote once, “took on forever an aura of beer-soaked regrets and midnight grief.” That’s okay, though. We need to recall our grief and regrets from time to time. They are, after all, a large part of what has made us who we are today. And for me, as I would hope it does for all of us through time, the grief has eased its way to bittersweet, and the song triggers these days nothing more than a half-smile at how young we all were. And the recording – which includes among others Lowell George on slide guitar and New Orleans pillar Earl Palmer on drums – stands up well after thirty-seven years, too. Key line: “It takes a whole lot of medicine for me to pretend to be somebody else.”

I’ve never seen the Francis Ford Coppola film One From The Heart, a lack in my experience that will have to be remedied some day. But if the film is as good as the soundtrack that Tom Waits composed and then recorded with help from Crystal Gayle, it’s a hell of a film. I first became aware of “Take Me Home” from its use in a CBS Television drama, The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire, which had a seven-episode run in the autumn of 2003. At the end of one of the episodes, Mare Winningham sang the song to another of the cast members, spurring me to find out more about the song almost as soon as the show’s credits ran. I soon found Waits’ soundtrack and Gayle’s superb vocal on “Take Me Home” and then learned I needed to add the song to that list of tunes that can bring me to tears no matter what else is going on. Key lines: “Take me home, you silly boy/All the world’s not round without you.”

I imagine that the radio stations I listened to in Minot, North Dakota, during the spring and summer of 1988 likely played the Church’s “Under the Milky Way” at other times of the day, but when I hear the record’s moody jangle, it always makes me feel as if it’s sometime around eleven o’clock at night. I’m in my apartment on Minot’s north side, reading or petting a cat as the music brings me closer to ending another day in a season that was little more than a test of endurance. I imagine I heard the record a fair amount during that time, as it went to No. 24. And given that, it’s a pleasant surprise that I still like the record very much. Key lines: “Wish I knew what you were looking for/Might have known what you would find.”

(My thanks to Caesar Tjalbo for “Take Me Home.”)

– whiteray