Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘I Think I’ve Been Here Before’

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

So here’s the problem that pops up now and then when you’ve written 2,400-some posts and don’t have them indexed:

You find a track buried deep in a folder on the hard drive and think, “Wow, I didn’t know I had that! Let’s write about it and the cover versions it inspired!”

And after investing an hour or so in research and formatting, something clues you in: You’ve written about this before. In the past two years. This one’s a little bit different, maybe even better, but it’s basically the same post.

Ah, well. Here’s the appropriately titled “A Sense Of Déjà Vu” by Al Stewart. It’s from his 1996 compilation of outtakes and demos, Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.

‘Ooh, She Do Me . . .’

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Having revisited Phoebe Snow’s cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” earlier this week, I was poking around various sites looking for other covers of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I was reminded of a different cover of a Beatles song by band with a very familiar name: Underground Sunshine.

The group, from Montello, Wisconsin, was part of my first full season of Top 40 listening, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday” rising as high as No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the late summer and early autumn of 1969. That cover hangs in my memory for two reasons:

First, the record stayed long enough on the playlist of WJON, just down the street and around a couple of corners from us in St. Cloud, that I managed to get a decent recording of the record off of the radio on the late September evening that my sister was celebrating her nineteenth birthday. Not a big deal, but it’s always nice to surprise and please your older sister.

Second, as the Underground Sunshine’s record got its airplay during that late summer and early autumn, I was blissfully unaware of the song’s genesis, as I had only recently entered the world of pop and rock. Some months later, I heard the Beatles’ original (from the 1968 White Album) and pondered for a moment why the Beatles would bother recording another group’s song. I remain very glad, more than fifty years later, that I did not voice that thought aloud in the presence of any of my peers.

Anyway, the Underground Sunshine came to mind today – and as I write, I realize I’m kind of burying the lede here – with the discovery that the Wisconsin group had recorded “Don’t Let Me Down” and included the track on its only album, Let There Be Light, released on the Intrepid label in 1969.

The cover is a mixed bag: The tempo is just a hair slower than on the Beatles’ version, and the vocals are a bit dodgy, especially on the bridge. On the other hand, the organ solo – subbing for Billy Preston’s electric piano – works nicely. For a regional band’s album cut, it’s decent.

‘They’s Winners & They’s Losers . . .’

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Last November, I was invited by a Facebook friend to join a group of writers who each post once a week at a blog called Consortium of Seven. The other six folks post about TV and movie delights, about art, about trawling thrift stores, about life. I write about music. Some of the posts I’ve offered there are original to the day; others are revisions of things I’ve offered here during the past fourteen years, The other Monday, I revamped an older post from here, writing about The Band and a moment of serendipity, and I thought I’d share the result here.

My list of musical “must-have” groups and performers is fairly short. By that I mean performers and groups whose official releases I always acquire. When Bruce Springsteen releases a new CD or box set, I buy it. When the Tedeschi Trucks Band comes out with something new, I buy it. And there are three or four others.

Some groups and performers have fallen off that list: I bought everything the Indigo Girls did for more than a decade, then stopped, either because their newer stuff had lost the shining edge they’d displayed during the late 1980s and through the 1990s or because I’d lost the listening ear to hear that edge. I used to buy everything Eric Clapton brought out, but I didn’t enjoy the last few CDs of his that came my way. (And as his behavior during the pandemic has revealed, he’s kind of a dick, which would blunt at least a little my enjoyment of his new work.)

One group that remains on the must-have list is The Band, originally a collection of four Canadians – Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson – and Arkansan Levon Helm, who released several superb albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s (and a few others that had at least flashes of brilliance through 1977, with a live, guest-studded, farewell album in 1978). The group, without Robertson, resumed touring in the 1980s and lost Manuel to suicide.

In the 1990s, the remaining trio – Danko, Hudson and Helm – recruited new players and reassumed the mantle of The Band, releasing three CDs. The albums weren’t as good as the group’s best work from the early years – the lack of Robertson’s often-brilliant songwriting hurt – but they were good sturdy work, nestled in what is now called Americana, the genre that I will always contend was established by the group’s work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I came across that 1990s resurrection by accident, a year or two after the first of those three efforts – Jericho – was released in 1993. I was driving through the suburbs north of Minneapolis, heading toward my home in the southern portion of the city with the radio likely turned to Minneapolis’ KTCZ, which then and now bills itself as Cities 97. And then from the speaker came the strum of a mandolin followed by the unmistakable voice of Levon Helm, singing the immediately recognized words of “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen:

Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night
And they blew up his house, too
Down on the boardwalk, they’re ready for a fight
Gonna see what them racket boys can do

Now, there’s trouble busin’ in from outta state
And the D.A. can’t get no relief
Gonna be a rumble on the promenade
And the gamblin’ comissioner’s hangin’ on by the skin of his teeth

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Well, I got a job and I put my money away
But I got the kind of debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew out what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold
But with you forever I’ll stay
We’ll be goin’ out where the sand turns to gold
But put your stockings on, ’cause it might get cold

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Now, I’ve been a-lookin’ for a job, but it’s hard to find
They’s winners and they’s losers and I’m south of the line
Well, I’m tired of getting’ caught out on the losin’ end
But I talked to a man last night, gonna do a little favor for him

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City

The track faced away in a swirl of accordion, which by that time I recognized came from the fingers of Garth Hudson, and as I neared home, I made a mental note to visit a nearby music store and get the cassette of what had to be a new album by The Band. (A blogging friend of mine insisted to the day he left this earth that without Robertson, the group could not be The Band, but I’m a little less literal on that.)

And as the 1990s passed and the new century came, I got a CD player and began to collect the works of The Band – and the other must-haves – in that format. Though new releases ended when Danko and Helm followed Manuel to wherever we go when our work here is done, reissues continue: I recently acquired fiftieth anniversary packages – both expanded with previously unreleased material – of the 1968 album Music From Big Pink and the 1971 album Stage Fright.

Those will be fine listening, I’m certain. But I’m also certain that no smile is going to break on my face as wide as the one that came during that mid-1990s drive when I realized that The Band – in whatever form – was back and I heard the group’s take on “Atlantic City” for the first time:

Saturday Single No. 744

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

Sometimes the blank white space on my screen mocks me.

The cursor blinks impatiently, urging me to get on with things. And there’s nothing there.

This used to happen occasionally during my newspapering days, especially on Wednesday mornings, deadline time at both the Monticello Times, where I began my career in weekly journalism, and the Eden Prairie News, the last community weekly of my career. Quite often at both papers, the final thing I’d write for the weekly edition was my column, Musings.

I’d sit at my desk, pondering the blinking cursor – or, in the earliest days at Monticello, the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter – going over in my head the events of the last seven days to see if any of them sparked an idea. I’d page through the morning’s newspaper quickly, looking for news of an event somewhere, anywhere, that might bring inspiration.

If those brought no deadline joy, I might begin a tentative sentence, maybe: “I wonder if . . .”

Sometimes that worked. I’d recall something I’d thought about in recent days, and maybe finish the sentence with the words “. . . if the folks who run the Monticello Country Club know what a tidy little gem they have tucked next to Interstate 94.”

And I’d be off and writing, telling folks about last week’s early Thursday morning round on the nine-hole course, perhaps writing about the day when I made a winding 65-foot putt on a tricky three-level green, with the ball leaving its track in the heavy morning dew so clearly that another early morning golfer, following about two holes behind, congratulated me on the putt when our paths crossed in the parking lot after our rounds.

Or, if it were before December 1980, I might finish my starter sentence with “. . . the Beatles will ever record together again, and if they do, will the finished product come close to the quality of the stuff already released?”

And I’d be off on that, writing about their recent solo releases, fitting together bits and pieces I’d read about those albums and about the activities of the four men, perhaps sliding in commentary about the most recent of the compilations released, maybe Rarities, and wandering my way from there until I had a coherent column.

Or else, I might end my wondering question with “. . . the Minnesota Vikings will ever win the Super Bowl?”

That one would end quickly with “Probably not in my lifetime.” And that’s not enough for a column, except as a gag.

One thing I wasn’t ever allowed to do, though, at either of the two papers mentioned above – or at any of the five or six other newspapers for which I wrote over the years – was give up. I could not go tell the editor on a Wednesday morning, “I’m sorry. The well is dry, and it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to rain today.”

I can do that here, if I need to. My only responsibility here is to my self-esteem, and I can deal with the occasional dry spell, as long as it’s just a spell and it doesn’t turn into a drought. And writing without a destination in mind can often be a rainmaker. bringing one to just the right place, a place where the rain comes without warning and the well is filled just enough to accomplish the day’s chores.

So here is a very aptly titled tune: Wynonna Carr’s “’Til The Well Runs Dry,” recorded for the Specialty label in Los Angeles in November of 1956. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Sipping Imaginary Cola . . .’

Friday, July 9th, 2021

We’re heading out of town briefly today, meeting Jeff Ash, proprietor of the fine blog, AM, then FM, and his bride, Janet. We’ll have lunch at one of the last real supper clubs that I know of, Jack & Jim’s, in the tiny burg of Duelm, not quite fifteen miles east of St. Cloud.

Supper clubs used to be a big deal in Minnesota (and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest), places where you could dine on fish and steaks with potatoes and rolls, supplemented by a plate full of stuff from an amply laden salad bar; along with the requisite lettuce and its companions, you’d frequently find such delights as liver pate and pickled herring. (Delights? Well, for me, yes.)

The places were somewhat rough-hewn, often with stuffed fish and animal heads on the walls, and those north of here – and there were many – had their parking lots filled with cars and trucks hauling fishing boats in summer and snowmobiles in the winter.

They’ve mostly gone away now, maybe because most of the newer and larger resorts offer their own restaurants and lounges, maybe for other reasons, too. But I’m sure a few still hang on in the northern portions of the state, and Jack & Jim’s has made it through the pandemic.

As we’re there for lunch instead of dinner today, I imagine the offerings will be more slender, and I kind of doubt the salad bar will be going, which means no pate or herring for me, sadly. But we’ll be there and eat well, no doubt.

Nothing in the digital stacks really worked with this piece, so we’re using a slender link to cue up a tune about where we might have ended up today had things not gone well: “Abandoned Luncheonette” by Hall & Oates. It was the title track of their 1973 album that broke the duo into the mainstream.

That First Move, Again

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

We’re dropping back to July 1976 today, back to the month when I moved out of the folks’ house and not only had to begin to cook for myself every day, but I had to buy groceries, figuring out for myself – as I once wrote – what type of tuna, toothpaste and coffee – along with everything else – I should buy, now that the consumer decisions were up to me. (As I wrote before, I went with Del Monte grated tuna, Colgate toothpaste, and Butter Nut coffee.)

But did I buy much music during the nine months I lived on the North Side, roasting in summer and freezing in winter? Hardly any. Evidently, the need to set aside money for such things as rent, groceries and my shares of the electric, phone, and fuel oil bills tightened my grip on my dollars. (Had I not been a smoker at the time, I imagine I might have used the money I spent on my daily pack – probably $3.50 to $5 a week – for LPs. Or more tuna.)

It turns out that I acquired only four albums during my nine months on the North Side:

Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack
Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan
The Lonely Things by Glenn Yarbrough
The Three Degrees

The Roberta Flack album was a gift from a friend; the others I paid for. The Steely Dan I bought new because I found it in a clearance bin; the others were used. With the Yarbrough, I was continuing my long quest to replicate the collection of albums my sister took with her from Kilian Boulevard when she left for adult life in the summer of 1972, and the Three Degrees album came home with me because it contained their hit, “When Will I See You Again.” (I was dating the young woman who would, in a few years, become the Other Half, and that was “our” song.)

But I wasn’t without a fair variety of music. One of the guys owned a stellar stereo system that held place in the living room, and there was an assortment of fairly current LPs on a shelf. And I always had my radio in my room. And there were a number of current hits on the radio that, as I wrote here eight years ago, remind me of that move and that summer. First, there was the record that was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time, “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. And then, as I wrote in 2013:

Beyond that, there were these: “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck (sitting at No. 13 during the first full week of July 1976); “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine (No. 26); “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls (No. 37); “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley (No. 40); “This Masquerade” by George Benson (No. 44); and “Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs (No. 70).

The titles alone bring back memories of sharing a kitchen with three others guys (and introducing one of them to the joys of creamed tuna on toast), of greeting my girlfriend on her first visit, of setting up the necessary items and supplies for my first cat, and of taking mass communications workshops and courses in information media at St. Cloud State as I tried to figure out how I was going to make a living.

All of those records, too, are in my iTunes/iPod and are thus still part of my day-to-day listening.

When I last wrote about that first week on the North Side, I offered the Lou Rawls record as definitive of the time. But they all were, and without digging around for an hour in the archives, I’d guess I’ve written about all of them several times. If I had to guess which one I’ve written about the least, I’d land on either the Keith Carradine single or the George Benson single. And I’m in the mood for it today, so here, from the movie Nashville, is “I’m Easy.”

Saturday Single No. 743

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

Every once in a while, there’s one of those days when all I want to do is share a song and then go sip coffee. So here’s a Saturday song: “Saturday Night Repentance” by the Waterproof Candle.

If the comments at YouTube are accurate, the group was from Indianapolis, and, as the label in portions of the video shows, the record was produced and arranged by Jimmy Webb. It came my way in the massive Lost Jukebox collection posted years ago by Jeffrey Glenn.

Slightly trippy, the record was released on Dunhill in 1968, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 742

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

Blame it on Amazon Prime.

I had plans for a post today, one that would require a little time and thought, but last evening, we dined out, then came home and watched a couple of episodes of The Killing, a series on Amazon Prime. Add another hour-long show and the necessary tasks prior to retiring for the night, and we got to bed very, very, late. (Cue “Around Here” by Counting Crows.)

So I wound up sleeping late, having odd dreams as I did. The one salient detail I remember from the last dream was a sign on the wall that said, “For help, call Boogie Boy 28.” And today’s partly planned post will wait for another day.

But the RealPlayer will bail me out, somewhat. It tells me that on this date – June 26 – in 1939 in Chicago, Roy Shaffer recorded “The Matchbox Blues,” later released as the B-side of Bluebird 8234. His version is one of eight tracks with similar titles on the digital shelves here, ranging in time from Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1927 version to Bob Dylan’s 1970 take on the version of the song called simply “Matchbox.”

(The website Second Hand Songs lists Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues” and “Matchbox” as two different tunes, crediting Carl Perkins with authorship of the latter. That surprises me, and I may look into it next week. If they’re not the same song, they’re at least cousins.)

As to Shaffer, discogs tells me he was a cowboy singer born in Mathiston, Mississippi, in 1906 who was active from the 1930s into the 1950s. recording for Decca and Bluebird in the mid- to late 1930s. He died in 1974 in Greenville, Mississippi, and is buried in nearby Cleveland, Mississippi.

Here’s Shaffer’s version of “The Matchbox Blues.” It came my way via the tenth disc – East Virginia Blues – of the eleven-disc series When The Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll released in the early 2000s by Bluebird and RCA. And it’s today’s Saturday single.

‘Every Time I Look At You . . .’

Friday, June 11th, 2021

It was about this time fifty years ago, in June 1971, that I entered the world of work, toiling for the summer for the maintenance department at St. Cloud State. I was assigned to the lawn-mowing crew, spending my days either riding a huge machine that trimmed the massive lawns of the college (eventually a university) or following behind with a push mower to trim the edges at places the big rigs could not go.

As I think I’ve noted before, I did not do well with the big machines; they scared me, and a timid mower does not move fast enough. After seven or eight weeks, I was transferred to the janitorial crew and soon enough joined Mike the Janitor scrubbing and waxing floors all over the campus.

But as I wrote more than twelve years ago, finding something to occupy one’s time while riding in the deafening roar of the big mowers was a challenge. (These days, I assume we’d be issued protective goggles and headphones. Fifty years ago? Not a chance.) In a post in 2009, I wrote:

We weren’t allowed to bring our transistor radios and earphones to work with us, for safety reasons, I assume. So there we were, those five or six of us on the mowing crew, spending our days on riding mowers or following behind the riding mowers with push mowers to trim around buildings.

The roar of the mowers made conversation impossible. I’m not sure what the other guys did to occupy their minds while riding in the roar, but I “listened” to albums. I’d mentally drop the needle at the start of a record and run through the album in my head, a side at a time.

Among the records I “listened” to as I rode the lawnmower were the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Hey Jude; Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album; Janis Joplin’s Pearl; the second side of Chicago’s second album, the side with the long suite titled “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon” and Jesus Christ Superstar. As long as I kept the mower moving and didn’t run into any trees or buildings, my supervisors didn’t seem to care that I was riding along in my own musical world.

As I read that post this morning, I thought of a few other albums that I’d run through my head as I rode during those lawnmower days fifty years ago: Crosby, Stills & Nash, and with Neil Young added, Déjà Vu, The Band’s second-self-titled album, Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney, and several more Beatles’ albums: Let It Be, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as well as the U.S. version of Revolver and the cobbled-together “Yesterday” . . . And Today. I imagine I also took stabs at the first and fourth movements of Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” symphony and Bedřich Smetana’s tone-poem Vltava, all of which I’d played in high school orchestra.

And here’s the first track from any of those albums that popped up during a random click-fest in iTunes this morning: the title track to 1970’s Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and performed by Murray Head with the Trinidad Singers:

‘A Small Vacation . . .’

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

This wasn’t planned, but this has turned out to be vacation week here. I’m weary and uninspired.

So here’s Dallas County with “Small Vacation” from the group’s self-titled 1971 album. The song was written by Don Nix and Jay Pruitt. Nix produced the album.

I’ll be back Saturday.