Posts Tagged ‘Van Morrison’

A May Day Remembered

Friday, May 1st, 2015

So it’s May 1, May Day, and I took a look at the archives to see if anything significant had ever happened musically on this date. And yeah, I found something. I told the tale back in 2008:

I’m on my second vinyl copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, but I recall clearly when I got my first copy in May 1975. My folks were heading to the Twin Cities for the day, and Mom asked if there were any records I wanted. I jotted down two titles and headed off to the college. When I got home that evening, there was a bag from Musicland with Pink Floyd’s masterpiece and Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey inside. I thanked her, and she pointed at the Pink Floyd with an odd look on her face.

“Is there something bad about that record, something shady?” she asked. “What kind of music is it?”

I shrugged, remembering her reaction a few years earlier to the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” and I said, “I suppose it’s called progressive rock. It’s different, but nothing awful. Why?”

“When I took it to the counter,” said my mom, at the time a matron in her mid-fifties, “the man there looked at it, and then at me, and he said, ‘Ma’am, are you sure you want this record?’”

I laughed, then said, “There’s nothing wrong. It’s just that not a lot of folks your age would listen to it.”

She nodded. “Okay,” she said.

I tossed off that 2008 post in a hurry, I guess, because in just this small excerpt there were two errors that I’ve corrected. I said I was on my third vinyl copy of Dark Side of the Moon, but it was only two; I suppose I could have been thinking “three” because of the CD copy I have. I dunno. More disturbingly, according to my LP log (which, for some reason, I obviously did not consult), Mom got me those two albums on May 1, not in October. And that means my memory is not quite as keen as I’d like to think, which dismays me at least a little bit.

Why did I think October? Probably because the autumn of 1975 looms so hugely and sweetly in my memory that I mis-remember many of the good things that happened during that year as having taken place during the autumn.

I almost wrote “any of the good things” instead of “many of the good things” there, but I changed it because, as I wrote, I recalled the fine summer of 1975, and I recalled as well one evening in April that included music, a few drinks and some sweet moments shared with a lovely young lady named Anne . . .

I also remember the lovely Anne leaving a note on my car a couple of weeks later – forty years ago today – wishing me a happy May Day and hoping we could get together again soon. We did; there was a picnic in a county park not too far in the future, and we saw each other on and off the rest of that spring and summer.

It’s a little mind-boggling that the May Day when Anne left the note on my car was forty years ago. Wherever Anne is (and the last I ever heard was St. Louis), she is – like I am – well into middle age. Instead of musing about the relentlessness of time, however, or even wondering as I sometimes do about roads not taken, I’ll just offer some music.

Here’s a tune from one of those albums my mom brought home for me on that long-ago day, one that offers sentiments I might have shared as I read Anne’s May Day note and headed home to new music: “When That Evening Sun Goes Down” from Van Morrison’s 1973 album Tupelo Honey.

‘That Dirty Little Coward . . .’

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

The jukebox across the way in the Atwood Center snack bar was playing Elton John. Sitting at The Table, I heard the puzzling title phrase, “I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.”

It must have been a Monday morning in early 1976, about the time John’s record entered the Top 40. Why a Monday? Because that was the quarter when I was an intern at a Twin Cities television station, and the only times I was at The Table in Atwood that quarter was on the occasional Monday morning when I checked in with my adviser before heading back to the Twin Cities and my sports reporting work.

Anyway, I looked over at the jukebox across the way and wondered out loud, “Who’s Robert Ford?”

The answer came quickly from my friend Sam, one of whose passions was the American West. “He’s the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard,” he said.

I looked blankly at him. “Okay,” I said. “That must mean something.”

He laughed and said, “Robert Ford was the man who shot Jesse James.”

I imagine I nodded, and the conversation went elsewhere and after a while, I headed to my adviser’s office and then back to the Twin Cities. And it’s entirely possible that until I picked up Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to The Long Riders in 1989, I never heard the folk song “Jesse James,” the song that Sam quoted to me that morning. Cooder’s version – which I sadly cannot embed here – plays over the end credits of the Walter Hill movie.*

The song is an old one, written soon after James’ death in 1882 by Billy Gashade (or perhaps LaShade) and first recorded in 1920 by a typewriter salesman named Bently Ball, according to the blog Joop’s Musical Flowers. Until I ran across that citation, the earliest version I knew about – but one I’ve not heard – came from Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Digging around at YouTube in the past few weeks, I’ve found versions by the Kingston Trio from 1961, the South Memphis String Band (a group made up by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes; Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Alvin Youngblood Hart) from 2010 and Van Morrison (from a 1998 performance with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber).

(Joop’s Musical Flowers lists many more versions, some dating to 1924, and has video or audio links for some of them.)

The shelves here also include versions by Bob Seger, from his 1972 album, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and by Bruce Springsteen, from his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and from the 2007 release Live In Dublin.

All of those are worth hearing (well, I’m not sure about the Kingston Trio’s version, which is why I did not link to it), but one of the best is the version by Pete Seeger from his 1957 album, American Favorite Ballads.

* Walter Hill’s film is also notable for the casting of four sets of acting brothers – Keach, Carradine, Quaid and Guest – as, respectively, the historical brothers James, Younger, Miller and Ford.

Saturday Single No. 433

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I thought about repeating in this space the Valentine’s Day post I first wrote in 2009 and reposted here last year. As it happens, during our church’s annual Valentine’s Day concert last Sunday, I read a slightly edited version of that post and was heartened by the response from the other members of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I’m not sure I can do any better in digging into the meaning of the day than I did with that post.

At the same time, I’m also very aware that, either tomorrow or Monday, it will be fifteen years since I wandered into a chat room for social issues and met the Texas Gal. So it’s only right that I should choose as a Saturday Single this morning a track that’s symbolized for us, right from the first few weeks, this joyous, nurturing and loving journey on which we’ve found ourselves.

That’s why Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” – from his 1970 album Moondance – is today’s Saturday Single. But before we listen, I do have one thing I’d like to repeat from that Valentine’s Day post I shared here twice before and that I shared with my fellowship friends last Sunday: “Embrace love, wherever you find it.”

‘I Am A Schoolboy, Too . . .’

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It’s the day after Labor Day, and here in St. Cloud, as in most of Minnesota – and most of the U.S., I imagine – the school buses roll. Teachers plan lessons and welcome new students. Students scan schedules and consider – sometimes covertly and sometimes not – who’s changed the most over what now seems to have been a brief summer.

And a new nine-month school year starts.

I could go several ways here. I thought about digging into the memory banks for a first-day-of-school story, but I’m not sure there are any left untold. So I went looking for a record about the first day of school. I didn’t find one that specific, but as I scanned the list of records the RealPlayer provided about “school,” I realized that I’ve never written about one of the great songs in the blues catalog.

It first showed up as “Good Morning School Girl” by John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy. He wrote and recorded the song for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937.

From there, the song moved on (with varying punctuation, the addition of the word “little” and mixed use of “schoolgirl” or “school girl”). The first cover version noted at Second Hand Songs – a site that’s not always complete but comes pretty close – is by Leroy Dallas & His Guitar in 1948, followed by Smokey Hogg in 1949 and L.C. Green in 1952. I should perhaps know those names, but I don’t. The version I found by Hogg at YouTube this morning is pretty good.

When we get to 1958, we see some familiar names beginning to pop up: Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Junior Wells, the Grateful Dead, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Geoff Muldaur recorded the song through the 1970s.

In 1964, we also find the Yardbirds, but their record is not the same song. Wikipedia explains: “In 1961, Don Level and Bob Love, as the R&B duo ‘Don and Bob,’ recorded a different version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ for Argo Records, a Chess subsidiary. Although it uses the phrase ‘good morning little schoolgirl’, the song has different chord changes and lyrics, including references to popular dance styles of the time. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton later covered this version of ‘Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl’ for their second UK single in 1964.”

My friend Larry, who hangs his hat at the great blog 16 Funky Corners, disputes this in a note below, saying that both the Yardbirds and Don & Bob singles are the Williamson song. It’s close, and I’ll acknowledge inspiration,  but I agree with Wikipedia. They are different songs. The clincher to me is the lack of the “I am a schoolboy, too.”

Muddy Waters recorded the song for his 1964 album Folk Singer, and his version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” is striking for its acoustic approach, rather than Waters’ usual electric arrangement. (That holds true for the entire album, of course, an early version of the “unplugged” phenomenon.)

A few years later, Mississippi Fred McDowell included “Good Morning Little School Girl” on one of my favorite blues albums, his 1969 effort I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

A few covers are listed in the 1980s, and in 1993, another great version of the tune came, unsurprisingly, from Van Morrison, who tackled “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” on his album Too Long In Exile.

(I haven’t decided: Is it creepy or just an adjustment when Waters and Morrison – and likely others who’ve recorded the song – sing “I once was a schoolboy, too,” and make the song’s narrator older than the schoolgirl to whom he’s singing?)

We skip a few more years and a few more covers and move on to 2011, when Rory Block gender-flipped the song’s lyrics for her 2011 album, Shake ’Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love Block’s work, and I think her version is my favorite, challenged by only Morrison’s and McDowell’s itself (acknowledging that there are many, many versions of the song I have not yet heard).

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.