Posts Tagged ‘Tony Joe White’

‘Hard To Handle’

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

When the Texas Gal went to the car – our Nissan Versa – after a business appointment two days ago, she pulled the door handle like she and I have done thousands of times in the nine years we’ve had the car. And the handle came off in her hand.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what it looked like. I know, though, what I would have looked like had it happened to me: I would have stood there for a second, looking dumbly from the black handle in my hand to the empty space on the car door. “Huh,” I would have thought, processing.

And then I, like she did, would have thought, “Well, it was going to happen sometime.”

As is the case with many cars these days – with key fobs that carry electronic openers – the driver’s door on the Versa is the only one with a lock that can be opened with the key. And about four to five months ago, the little plastic cowling around the keyhole started to break; it would come out of alignment a little, and we’d push it back in. And the handle was a little loose. We knew we were going to have to deal with it eventually, and we put it our agendas, but it was a littler lower on our lists than maybe it should have been.

This week, however, with the Texas Gal standing in the street in front of a client’s home holding a door handle that was no longer doing its job, it became a whole lot more important to get repairs done. As it happened, our other car, a Chevy Cavalier, was at the nearby tire place that day for an oil change and some minor other work, so when the Texas Gal – who got into the Versa via the passenger door, of course – came home, she and I headed down the street, picked up the Cavalier and dropped off the Versa to wait for parts.

I should hear sometime today that the Versa’s door is fixed, and I’ll walk the half- mile down to the tire place and pick it up. And we can hope that any more automotive ailments will wait a while longer.

A total of thirty-six tracks show up in the RealPlayer when I search for “handle.” Nine of them come from Gene Chandler, with the most famous of those, of course, being 1962’s “Duke of Earl.” There are also tracks from four lesser-known Chandlers: Dillard (“Rain and Snow,” a 1975 track from a 2002 Smithsonian Folkways collection), Howard (“Wampus Cat,” an originally unreleased track from a 1957 Sun session), Len (“Touch Talk,” a Columbia single from 1967) and Wayland (“Little Lover/Playboy” on the 4 Star label from 1958).

That leaves twenty-two tracks with “handle” in their titles, ranging along the time line from 1941’s “Panhandle Shuffle” by the Sons Of The West to Leon Russell’s 2013 version of “Too Hot To Handle.” We’ll stop somewhere near the middle for Tony Joe White’s 1970 cover of “Hard To Handle.”

The song was written by Allen Jones, Alvertis Isbell and Otis Redding and was first recorded by Redding. One of numerous releases that came after Redding’s death in December 1967, “Hard To Handle” was the B-side to “Amen” and, on its own, went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 38 on the magazine’s R&B chart during the summer of 1968. (“Amen” went Nos. 36 and 15, respectively.)

The song’s been covered numerous time – Second Hand Songs lists thirty-five covers – and two other versions charted along the way (at least through 2008, which is the last year in my copy of Top Pop Singles): Patti Drew’s 1968 cover went to No. 93 on the Hot 100 and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, and the Black Crowes released their cover twice, once in the autumn of 1990, when it went to No. 45 and then again during the summer of 1991, when it got to No. 26.

Some of the other covers of the tune have come from Tom Jones, the Grateful Dead, Brenda Lee, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Toots Hibbert, Gov’t Mule and – always one of my oddball favorites – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Here’s Tony Joe’s version, which was an album track on 1970’s Tony Joe:

Wandering Randomly

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

It’s time for a random walk through the more than 70,000 mp3s that have somehow gathered on the digital shelves in the past thirteen years. We’ll set the RealPlayer’s cursor in the middle of the pack, hit the forward button and check out the next six tracks.

First up is Howling Wolf’s single of “Wang Dang Doodle” from 1960:

Tell Automatic Slim, tell razor-totin’ Jim,
Tell butcher knife-totin’ Annie, tell fast-talkin’ Fanny,
We gonna pitch a ball down to that union hall.
We gonna romp and tromp till midnight,
We gonna fuss and fight till daylight.
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long.
All night long, all night long, all night long.

The song, written by Willie Dixon, might be better known from Koko Taylor’s 1966 version, which went to No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the R&B chart, but the Wolf’s version is the original. According to Wikipedia, neither Dixon nor the Wolf thought much of the song, with the Wolf quoted there as calling it a “levee camp” song. “Wang Dang Doodle” hit the charts again in 1974, when the Pointer Sisters’ cover went to No. 61 on the Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the R&B chart.

Eternity’s Children was a four-person pop group that evolved out of a group first formed in 1965 in Cleveland, Mississippi. The group’s self-titled debut album from 1968 has achieved some prominence over the years due to the co-production from sunshine pop gurus Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, although All Music Guide notes that the album “does not rank among the Boettcher/Olsen duo’s crowning achievements – both producers were distracted by other concurrent projects.” “Sunshine Among Us” is the album’s closing track; released as a single, it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 117.

In her lengthy career in the Hot 100 – from 1962 into 1980 – Jackie DeShannon hit the Top 40 three times, and all three records had the word “love” in their titles: “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to No. 7 in 1965, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in 1969, and “Love Will Find A Way” went to No. 40 (No. 11 AC) later that same year. Given the ubiquity of love as a topic for song, that might not be unique, but I thought it was interesting. The record we chance on this morning is the third one of those. “Love Will Find A Way” isn’t overwhelmingly good, and I don’t know that I heard it back in 1969, but it would have sounded nice coming out the radio between, say, the Beatles and Three Dog Night.

Chris Rea’s Blue Guitars is a 2005 release that consisted of eleven CDs, a DVD and a book that included liner notes, lyrics and Rea’s own paintings. “The album,” notes Wikipedia, “is an ambitious project with the 137 songs recorded over the course of 1½ years with a work schedule – according to Chris Rea himself – of twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Initially the project was inspired by Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and can be called an ‘odyssey’ in its own right, for depicting a journey through the various epochs of Blues Music, starting at its African origins and finishing with modern-time Blues from the 60s and 70s.” We land this morning on “Ticket For Chicago,” a track from the Country Blues disc of the massive album. Complete with the crackle and hiss of an old 78 at its start, the track is a pleasant stop along the way and a reminder that I need to dig far deeper into Blue Guitars than I have so far.

Our fifth stop is a cryptic B-side to a Top 20 hit on the Apple label: Mary Hopkin’s “Sparrow” seems to be a tale of melancholy confinement and the hope of escape, with that famed Apple producer Paul McCartney framing Hopkin’s crystal voice with bells and choirs and – at the end – a meandering saxophone. The track – written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle in their roles as songwriters for Apple – was the flip side to Hopkin’s “Goodbye,” which went to No. 13 (No. 6 AC) in 1969. While it’s doubtful that “Sparrow” could have been a hit as the A-side, I like it much better than I do “Goodbye” or Hopkin’s two other Top 40 hits, “Those Were The Days” (No. 2 pop and No. 1 AC in 1968) and “Temma Harbour” (No. 39 pop and No. 4 AC in 1970).

And we end our brief journey this morning on a front porch somewhere in the Louisiana bayous with Tony Joe White’s “Lazy” telling us that he’s just not going to get much done today:

Lazy,
Today you know I feel so dog gone lazy.
I believe my get-up-and-go has done gotta be gone.
Today I just can’t get it on.

The mellow and bluesy track comes from White’s 1973 album Home Made Ice Cream, which is a decent enough piece of work. It’s an album with a nice, generally laid back groove, very much like, say, something from J. J. Cale. But only occasionally does it approach the swampiness of “Polk Salad Annie,” White’s No. 8 hit from 1969.

‘. . . And The Red Light Was My Mind’

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The first bit of a Robert Johnson song I ever heard, I once theorized, was the short excerpt of “Come On In My Kitchen” that started off “49 Bye-Byes” on the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. I can’t put a specific date on when I heard it, but I know I got the album in early May of 1971.

Nor, it turns out, can I put a precise date to the first time I heard one of Johnson’s song performed in its entirety. I do, however, remember the circumstances. It was a Friday in the spring of 1972, almost certainly April. I headed out for some record shopping that evening, no doubt beginning at Axis, the store on St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – that stocked a good selection of new and used LPs as well as leather coats, hats and other goods. I went pretty quickly to the used records.

It should be remembered that in the spring of 1972, I was still catching up on about eight years of pop and rock history. I’d listened pretty consistently to Top 40 music during my last two years of high school, and had caught up then on some things I’d missed. I’d spent a good deal of my first year of college hanging around the campus radio station, and now I was digging into albums, trying again to catch up at least a little, this time with my radio station colleagues and my buddies in the dorms.

And in the bins at Axis, I found a record with a strange cover: It showed a flat landscape, and in the foreground there was a leaping, grinning man dressed in white, a guitar in each hand and an absurd Uncle Sam hat topping things off. To his right was a donkey laden with a drum set and another guitar. The record was, of course, ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’, subtitled The Rolling Stones in concert.

Well. I knew of the Rolling Stones, of course. Like the Beatles, the Supremes and a few other performers and groups, they’d been an inescapable portion of the musical landscape through the years when my peers listened to Top 40 and I had my ears still tuned elsewhere. I might not have known the names of all the Stones’ hits from the years before I began listening, but I knew the records. And I knew “Honky Tonk Women,” the single that had been No. 1 for the first four weeks of my tenure as a football manager during my junior year of high school.

Intrigued, I turned the record over and scanned the titles. There was “Honky Tonk Women” on the second side. Other than that, I sheepishly admit, I recognized only one title: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” But I didn’t know the Stones’ version well. My best knowledge of the song came through Leon Russell’s performance of it during the Concert for Bangladesh; I’d gotten that box set for Christmas. Given those two bits of familiarity – and my knowledge that the Rolling Stones were important and thus it was important for me to know more about them – I took the record to the counter. The price tag is still on the front of the record, some thirty-eight years later. I paid $1.99 for it.

Anxious to show off my find to a buddy or two, I stopped at St. Cloud State’s Stearns Hall on my way home. I found my pal Dave and his girlfriend hanging around in his room, and they chuckled when they saw “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” listed on the back; I’d made no secret of my admiration for Leon Russell’s performance. Dave cued up the record, and we listened to that track, the first on the record. After that, as it was obvious I’d interrupted something that Dave and his girl wanted to resume, I took my record and headed home.

And in the basement rec room, I cued up the record once again and listened to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol” and “Stray Cat Blues.” I was pleased but puzzled. This wasn’t the Rolling Stones that I remembered from the radio. Keep in mind, first, that I only vaguely recalled the Stones’ studio version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and that I’d not heard the album tracks from Beggar’s Banquet. Secondly, since no singles from it had reached the Top 40, I’d likely never heard anything from Let It Bleed. And there was no way that “Honky Tonk Women” – the only Stones’ song I knew at all well – could have prepared me for this earthy and bluesy music.

Then came the introduction to “Love In Vain.” And I heard an entire Robert Johnson song for the first time. I stared at the floor as Mick Jagger bit off the desolate words and I stared at the stereo across the room as Mick Taylor took his slide solo, and then I heard Jagger sing about the blue light and the red light, all of it pulling me along into the blues.

I didn’t stay there long that time; I was eighteen. In later years, of course, I’d delve deeply into the blues and wander through all the genres, including blues rock. Much of that later exploration opened another world to me – especially the larger-than-life work of Howlin’ Wolf – but I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a song as deeply as I was that evening when I heard “Love In Vain” for the first time.

(I should note that when I first heard the Stones’ live version of “Love In Vain,” it wasn’t listed as a Robert Johnson composition; the album credits said the song was “Traditional arr. Jagger/Richard.” I’m not sure when the songwriting credit was changed – I’d guess the early 1990s – but the 2002 reissue of the CD credits the song to Johnson.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 33
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White from Black and White [1969]
“Love in Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’ [1970]
“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International 3524 [1972]
“December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons, Warner/Curb 8168 [1976]
“Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town [1978]
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House from Crowded House [1986]

Talk about another world! The swamp rock of Tony Joe White was unlike pretty much anything else in the Top 40 during the last weeks of August 1969, when “Polk Salad Annie” went to No. 8. (Creedence Clearwater Revival had two songs in the Top 40, but I think Tony Joe came from a little deeper in the swamp.) The bluesy tale of the gal whose mama was workin’ on a chain gang intrigued me whenever I heard it coming out of the radio speakers, especially White’s growled introduction and his spoken interjections. Of course, I didn’t do anything about it: I never bought the single, and I didn’t get the album that was home to the single – Black and White – until sometime in the 1990s. But I still love the record. “Polk Salad Annie” brought White his only hit, although he continues to perform and record; his most recent album, The Shine, came out earlier this year.

When the O’Jays called us out to the station in 1972, I’m not sure that anyone who heard the infectious “Love Train” didn’t want to get on board. As I detailed the other day when I wrote about “Back Stabbers,” the group had seen singles move into the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart for years before Top 40 success arrived. And arrive it did: “Love Train” went to No. 1, and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart as well. The group would hit the Top 40 seven more times before the string of hits ended in 1980. (The hits on the R&B and related charts continued, and as recently as 2004, the O’Jays had a track – “Make Up” – get to No. 74 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.)

I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Season’s “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand. The 4 Seasons had thirty Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1976 (with a dance remix of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” going to No. 14 in 1994 for a thirty-first hit). But “December 1963” is the only one that does anything at all for me.

“Badlands” was the first Bruce Springsteen song I recall hearing. As I’ve noted before, I was aware of the hoopla surrounding Born To Run when it came out in 1975, but I don’t recall ever hearing the title track on the radio (which is odd, as it went to No. 23). I suppose I heard it but didn’t pay much attention. But I do remember hearing “Badlands” one day when I was working for the Monticello newspaper. My boss had a new Suburban, which we used to bring the 3,000 or so copies of each weekly edition back from the printer in a town ten miles away. One Wednesday during the summer of 1978, it was my job to drive to Buffalo, put the final touches on the newspaper and then bring back the finished product. One of the benefits of driving the Suburban was the FM radio, something my vehicle did not have. So after I started the Suburban, I tuned it to KQRS, an album-rock station in the Twin Cities, and the first thing I heard was Max Weinberg’s brief drum riff and then – I had the volume turned up high – the crash of “Badlands,” with its stinging, octave-jumping guitar riff and Clarence Clemons’ own defiant solo. Over the years, because of that moment and because of its musical and lyrical toughness, “Badlands” has remained one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100, but it deserved better, if for no other reason than the line: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

We’d had a spat one day, the Texas Gal and I. It was the summer of 2000: She was still living and working in the Dallas area, and I was living in my apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, a half-block from the international airport. I don’t recall what the argument was about, but troubled, I tried to think of a way to apologize without interrupting her during a busy afternoon. I wasn’t quite certain she wanted to talk to me at the moment, anyway. As I sat at my computer, my RealPlayer settled on a Crowded House tune, one that I liked a fair amount. It had been a No. 2 hit in early 1987, but I recalled it from my second year in Minot; one of the young women who edited the Minot State yearbook brought mixtapes in for the yearbook production sessions, and the sounds of those mixtapes came unavoidably through my door into my office. Happily, I’d liked most of the tunes I’d thus heard, including the Crowded House record that was now playing. As the song went on and I worried about how the Texas Gal felt after our argument, I opened my Yahoo! messenger and changed my status to: “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” I knew that the program – which she also had on her computer at work – would alert her to my change of status. A few moments later, I got an alert that her status had also changed. I don’t recall the exact wording – and neither does she – but her message was reassuring. And since that day, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” – a beautifully written, performed and produced piece of pop music – has been one of our favorite songs.