Archive for the ‘Saturday Single’ Category

Saturday Single No. 746

Saturday, July 24th, 2021

During the summer of 1942, Alan Lomax, representing the U.S. Library of Congress, was traveling in the southern United States, lugging a bulky recording machine and getting on tape music, essentially, of the people. He was accompanied by John Work of Fisk University, a historically Black university in Nashville, Tennessee.

A year earlier, at Stovall Plantation, just a few miles south of Friars Point, Mississippi, Lomax (accompanied presumably by Work) had recorded a few songs performed by a tractor driver for the plantation, a young Black man named McKinley Morganfield. In July 1942, again at Stovall Plantation and probably in the city of Clarksdale as well, Lomax and Work recorded more tunes by Morganfield. During the Stovall sessions, the duo also recorded some with Morganfield as a member of a string band called the Son Sims Four.

Morganfield, of course, would eventually be one of the millions of Black men and women who would leave the south during the Great Migration of the mid-Twentieth Century, He would end up in Chicago, where he would be known by his childhood nickname, Muddy Waters, and where he would become one of the giants of the blues

Here’s one of the tunes that the young Muddy Waters performed for Lomax, Work, and the recording machine during the 1942 sessions at Stovall Plantation, the first of two takes of “I Be Bound To Write You.” Its sound is very similar to a song Waters would record in 1948 in Chicago that would become his first hit, “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

“I Be Bound To Write You” was recorded on July 24, 1942, seventy-nine years ago today, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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.

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. 741

Saturday, June 19th, 2021

In recognizing Juneteenth today, one hopes not to be ham-handed nor to miss the target out of simple cultural dimness.

Here’s a track titled “Day of Liberty,” recorded by the renowned string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops for a 2013 two-CD set titled Divided & United: Songs of The Civil War. The track is made up of the lyrics to the song “Wake Nicodemus,” an 1864 piece by Henry Clay Work (the composer of, among other songs, “My Grandfather’s Clock”) and a musical chorus that also comes, I assume, from the Civil War era.

As to the personnel on the track, I’m uncertain, as I don’t have the notes to the album and the group’s members changed frequently throughout its existence, but I know the female vocal is from Rhiannon Giddens, and I think that the recitation is by Dom Flemons.

All those uncertainties aside, the piece seemed like an appropriate one for the first Juneteenth following the day’s being cast as a federal holiday. So here’s “Day of Liberty,” today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 740

Saturday, June 12th, 2021

According to the book Billboard #1s, a Joel Whitburn publication, here were the records at the top of the various charts published in the June 12, 1971 edition, fifty years ago today:

Hot 100: “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones
R&B singles: “Want Ads” by the Honey Cone
Country singles: “You’re My Man” by Lynn Anderson
AC singles: “Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
Pop albums: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
R&B albums: Maybe Tomorrow by the Jackson 5
Country albums: Hag by Merle Haggard

I know three of the four singles well, but only one of the three albums. My knowledge of the artists from that list whose works I do not know well forms a pyramid: I know the Jackson 5’s hits but none of their albums; I know Anderson’s biggest hit, “Rose Garden,” but no more than that; and I know only a sliver of Haggard’s mountain of work: “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “Pancho & Lefty” are what came to mind.

And I imagine that kind of differential would be the norm no matter what week’s listings I pulled from the Whitburn book.

I got the LP of Sticky Fingers in late 1972, among a batch of albums ordered from a record club, and it went into heavy rotation in the basement rec room that autumn and winter. Along with the singles, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” my favorites were “Moonlight Mile” and “You Gotta Move.” That last song was credited on the LP in 1971 to Mississippi Fred McDowell, which is what I expected, but the credits on the Sticky Fingers CD release add Rev. Gary Davis, which I did not expect.

Davis recorded his version of the tune in 1953, according to Second Hand Songs, and McDowell’s version was not recorded until 1965 (though he no doubt had been performing the song for years before that). But given that recorded versions of the song date to at least 1944, according to SHS, the credit even to McDowell seems questionable. SHS calls the song traditional.

Wherever it came from, it’s a good song. Here it is as the Stones released it on the No. 1 album from fifty years ago. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 739

Saturday, June 5th, 2021

Earlier this spring, in a piece about the passing of musician/producer Jim Steinman, I wrote:

I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

The LP database tells me that it was thirty-seven years ago today that I picked up the soundtrack to Streets of Fire and took it home to the south end of Columbia. And today, sorting out the third-best track on the album, I dithered between Maria McKee’s “Never Be You” and Marilyn Martin’s take on the Stevie Nicks-penned “Sorceror.”

I came down on the side of “Sorceror.” Martin was the first to record it; Nick’s version came out only in 2001 on her album Trouble in Shangri-La. And Martin’s version from 1984 is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 738

Saturday, May 29th, 2021

Short of ideas this morning, I asked the RealPlayer to find tracks that were recorded on May 29 over the years, and we ended up with a few. (A reminder: I have that level of detail for perhaps ten percent of the 82,000 tracks available in the player.)

The oldest of the tracks listed for today’s date is from 1930, when bluesman and songster Blind Blake recorded “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” in Grafton, Wisconsin, for the Paramount label. As is true of many tracks I’ve heard on the early Paramount label, the copy I have is hard to listen to. Until relatively recent advances in sound restoration, the poor quality of the early Paramount recordings along with, I would guess, their rarity, made it a challenge to listen to them through the hiss and crackle. And the version I have of “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” is no different. The first verse goes (I think):

A gangster shot his pal today
As they carried him away
He say “Diddie wa diddie”
He say “Diddie wa diddie”
I just found out what “diddie wa diddie” means . . .

The last line of that verse refers to the original “Diddie Wa Diddie,” in which Blake sings “There’s a great big mystery” and goes on to tell us that the mystery is the meaning of the words “diddie wa diddie.”

The lyrics to “Diddie Wa Diddie” are widely available online, but oddly enough, in an era when it seems like everything and its puppy dog has been transcribed and uploaded to the ’Net, the lyrics to “Diddie Wah Diddie No. 2” seem to be absent.

A little bit of digging tells me that “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” was the B-side of Paramount 12994, which featured “Hard Pushing Papa” on the A-side. From what discogs tells me, the best current source for the song is the 2000 release from Yazoo titled The Best of Blind Blake.

I’m pretty sure my copy didn’t come from there, as the sound quality of the videos showing that album’s cover at YouTube – including videos of “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” – is much better than the sound of the clip in my collection (though still a bit challenging). So where did my digital copy come from? I have no idea, but it must have been in my early days of scavenging music online, as its bit rate is poor.

All of that is of no matter, I guess, except that if I want a better copy of “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2,” I now know where to find it. Will I? I doubt it. (I am a bit surprised that the track hasn’t shown up on the numerous anthologies of vintage music that already take up space on my shelves.) All that matters this morning is that ninety-one years ago today, Blind Blake recorded “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” in Grafton, Wisconsin. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 737

Saturday, May 22nd, 2021

The last three posts here, we’ve looked back at music bought on that date in the years 2000 and 2014. I thought I’d try the trick again today, and what I found brought back a memory from around 2014, maybe a bit later.

During the last four or five years of Mom’s life – from about 2012 into June 2017 – she quit going to Sunday services at Salem Lutheran Church, the East Side congregation that she and Dad had joined quite probably as soon as they set up housekeeping on Riverside Drive during the summer of 1948.

For about five years before that, after she sold her last car, she’d been riding with a fellow parishioner – also aging – who lived not far from her in Sauk Rapids. But he, too, became unable to drive, which left Mom to listen to the weekly services from Salem on a local radio station. I know she missed seeing Salem’s other members, but she also enjoyed, I think, being able to sit back in her favorite chair and sip a cup of coffee as the service went on, especially during bad weather.

(Could I have driven her to and from Salem? Well, not without major difficulty. That was about the time that the Texas Gal and I became involved in the activities of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in St. Cloud, and the schedule would have been difficult to navigate even at first, and then impossible after I became involved in the music activities at the UUF. I offered once to check with the local bus service’s custom ride program, but Mom demurred. I do think she enjoyed having church come to her.)

Having church come to her, however, did not curtail one of her favorite bits of involvement in Salem’s parish life: As every new year dawned during those last years, when it was difficult for her to be out and about, she’d have me go over to Salem for her and check out the calendars hanging on the corridor wall near the church office. Those calendars showed which members were sponsoring what portion of the service on which Sundays.

There was a calendar for those who wanted to provide flowers for the altar. There was one for those who wished to defray the cost of the radio broadcast of the service. There was another one, too, perhaps for something to do with the cost of communion – I’m not certain. My task, for those years, was to find one Sunday to sponsor the broadcast that was close to the date of Dad’s death in early June or their wedding anniversary in July, as well as sign up to cover the cost of altar flowers on Sundays close to each of those dates.

I don’t remember the cost of doing that. Somewhere around $200, I think. And having signed up on the calendars, I brought a check into the office, and handed it to Viv, the secretary and knower-of-all-things-essential that no organization can survive without. Viv’s younger brother was a high school classmate of my sister, who is three years older than I, so Viv and I were pretty much contemporaries.

I saw Viv maybe ten to twelve times a year during Mom’s last years. Not only was there the January trip to sponsor flowers and the radio broadcast, but there was also the near-monthly stop to pick up the newest edition of the booklet of daily devotions. And pretty much every time I stopped in, Viv had time to chat.

We had shared interest in pets and in pop-rock music, especially on LP. She and her daughter would make frequent trips to the Twin Cities on record-digging expeditions, and she was always pleased to share her successes and failures with me. The size of my LP collection – then at about 3,100 – fascinated her. And one of the constants of our conversations became her attempt to get a good collection of Pink Floyd LPs.

They were, she said, hard to find in any kind of decent condition. So, at one point, I told her that I had a wide collection of Floyd’s tunes in digital form, and if she wanted to give me some blank CDs, I’d burn my Floyd collection on them. I did note that the fidelity would be a little compromised, with the music having been first reduced from CD to mp3 and then stretched back. She didn’t care.

Then came the day I took Mom to Salem for a funeral of a friend. Viv was busy in the office, so I decided I’d get the blank CDs from her when I came back to pick up Mom, and I went home for a couple of hours. Once there, I sat in my study and thought about Pink Floyd. In not too many months, I knew, I was going to sell off two-thirds of my LPs. I had Dark Side Of The Moon and a few other Floyd albums on CD, and – as I mentioned above – most of the group’s entire catalog in digital form.

And when the time came for me to head to Salem again that morning, I pulled all the Pink Floyd LPs from the shelf, put them in a bag and took them with me to Salem. With Mom still at the post-funeral reception in the church’s Great Hall, I headed to the office. As I entered, Viv grabbed a stack of blank CDs and offered them to me. I shook my head and handed her the bag. “No,” I said, “this is yours.”

She looked through the bag and raised her head, staring at me. “How much?”

I shook my head again. “Nothing. You’ve been so good to Mom.”

Expressions of thanks went back and forth, and I left to find my mother, leaving in Viv’s possession five Pink Floyd LPs in very good condition, including my second copy of Dark Side Of The Moon, a record I bought in Minneapolis on May 22, 1993, replacing my first copy, one my Mom had bought for me as a gift in 1975.

And here, from 1973’s Dark Side Of The Moon, is “Time,” today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 736

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Every music hunter knows the deal: You’re flipping through a bin of CDs or LPs, looking for nothing in particular, nearly hypnotized by the click-click of the CDs or the floof-floof of the record jackets, and then you stop. And go back one or two or three spots. And you pull out a CD or LP and scan the jacket.

You have no idea why that particular album grabbed your attention. Sometimes something on the jacket, something in the credits clicks. Maybe a name, maybe a place, maybe a song title. You look at the price, and if it’s reasonable for something you don’t seem to know about, you set it aside and it goes home with you.

And when it’s in the player or on the turntable, maybe it works for you. Sometimes, it’s good stuff. Most of the time, I’d guess, it’s just okay music. And every once in a while, it’s something that you really needed, even if you didn’t know what it was. The universe is funny like that.

Twenty-one years ago today, I was in the budget room of a Half Price Books in St. Paul, sifting through first the books and then the CDs. I don’t remember if I bought any books, but one of the CDs on the budget cart called to me. I looked it over and couldn’t figure out why.

The album, Glory Road, was from 1992, by a group called Maggie’s Farm. Okay, a Dylan reference. The lead vocalists were two women: Allison MacLeod and Claudia Russell. No recognition there, nor with the rest of the band: Steve Bankuti on drums and percussion, Jason Keene on bass, Brian Kerns on keyboards, and Roy Scoutz on guitar.

I scanned further and found a couple of names I recognized: David Lindley on Hawaiian guitar and lap steel and Rosemary Butler on background vocals. I headed for the cash register.

At home, I dropped the CD into the player and sat back to listen. I don’t even remember what the second track on the album sounded like. I’m sure it’s popped up on the RealPlayer from time to time, as have, no doubt, others from the CD. The first track, the title track, was all I needed.

Since 1992, Claudia Russell has played with and/or written for other folks and has released a few solo albums, the most recent in 2013. Allison MacLeod’s credits at AllMusic are more slender, with nothing since 2003.

I’ll probably look for some of Russell’s work. And I’ll likely rip Glory Road as a full album and see if I like it when it pops up. If so, fine. If not, okay. All I really need, just like back in 2000, is the title track, “Glory Road.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 735

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

The Texas Gal and I took an overnight trip last weekend to the harbor city of Duluth, Minnesota, at the western tip of Lake Superior, and seeing the big lake and its freighters reminded me of a piece I posted here years ago pondering, among other things, the definition of folk song. So, I thought I’d share that – edited somewhat – again today.

A number of years ago, during a driving tour around Lake Superior, the Other Half and I stopped at a maritime museum on an old ship in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, at the eastern end of the big lake. We wandered through displays about the shipping industry on the Great Lakes, seeing this old logbook and that old uniform, likely learning more than we had expected but being – at least in my case – curiously unmoved by what we were seeing.

There was nothing there that communicated to me the power and romance of the lakes, especially Superior, a body of water so large that it’s really not a lake but an inland sea.

And then we went back on deck and saw a battered lifeboat. Perhaps thirty feet long and made of thick steel, the boat sat malformed on the deck of the museum ship, twisted and bent, mute testimony to the power of the lake where its parent vessel had plied its trade. The name of the parent ship stenciled onto the lifeboat? The Edmund Fitzgerald.

It’s been almost forty-six years since a November storm sent the Edmund Fitzgerald to the bottom of Lake Superior. To those of us in the Northland, certainly in the states that share Superior’s shores, the sinking remains vivid in memory, a marker in time. I have a sense, though, that for those from elsewhere in the U.S. (and certainly elsewhere in the world), the boat’s sinking would be a dim memory today were it not for Gordon Lightfoot. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a single taken off his Summertime Dream album in 1976, provides an indelible and haunting reminder of the events of November 10, 1975.

All-Music Guide, in its review of Summertime Dream, notes: “As for ‘Edmund Fitzgerald,’ its continued popularity . . . attests to the power of a well-told tale and a tasty guitar lick.” I think the popularity of the song is more complex than that, however. To me, one of the main reasons for the song’s enduring vitality is that, in 1976, it brought to popular culture, for one of the few times in many years, a true example of folk music.

Folk music, as it’s been defined since about 1965, is music with primarily acoustic instrumentation. (When electric instrumentation is added, one finds folk’s cousin, folk rock.) That’s a pretty sparse and broad definition, but it has to be to bring into the fold of folk music all the performers who have been described since the mid-Sixties as folk artists, as the genre evolved into singer/songwriter music.

A more narrow and purist definition would call folk music only that music that has been passed on via an oral tradition. The practicality of requiring an oral tradition, however, long ago went by the wayside, most likely in 1952 with the release of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music on Folkways Records, a collection that brought to multitudes of singers both inspiration and material, according to the testimony of Bob Dylan and many other folkies of the 1960s.

Requiring folk music today to have an oral source rather than a recorded source would mean that any musician who performs, say, “Man of Constant Sorrow” after hearing it on Dylan’s first album or after hearing any of the many other versions of the song released over the past seventy years, is singing a song that is no longer folk music, and that constraint, to me, is silly.

So I think that worrying about the source of the music isn’t the place to look when talking about folk music. I think we’re better off looking at content: What is the song about?

And in much of the music that was considered classic, traditional folk – the music contained in the Smith anthology and more – commemoration of and commentary on the events of the day was central. Cultural memory was preserved in live song in those years before everyone saw the news on CNN and before everyone could listen to the song on a record player or a CD player or an iPod. Answering the question of “What happened when?” is a central part of much classic, traditional folk music.

I think it’s likely that a wide audience truly began to ponder the impact of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald only after hearing Lightfoot’s song. Here in the Northland, the recording was more a reminder than anything. But for both audiences – those who already knew a great deal about the Edmund Fitzgerald and those who learned more about it through the song – Gordon Lightfoot’s song provides a commemoration of the event, and to me, that is the core function of folk music, to provide common memory of the events that form and transform our communities: