Archive for the ‘Departures’ Category

‘Down The Road . . .’

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

Fifty years ago, I was spending my evenings washing floors at St. Cloud State with Janitor Mike and spending my day-time hours no doubt wasting time in the basement rec room, sitting on the green couch and listening to my limited collection of LPs.

It was probably about this time of August that the college hosted an overnight orientation for incoming freshman students, which is when I met Dave the Poet, Wyoming Rick and the other folks who would make up a lot of my social life during that first year at St. Cloud State. But they were in town for one night and then went back to their hometowns and would not be back until nearly two-thirds of September had passed.

And Rick from across the street was – I think – toiling at a summertime job somewhere, and when that ended, he’d head to his junior year at St. Cloud Cathedral, the Catholic high school downtown.

So, pretty much alone, I listened to my LPs – only a few of which were very current – and wondered what albums (beyond the Beatles LPs I would need to backfill my complete collection) I should have in my sights. I could have used the help of the progressive rock folks at KSHE-FM in St. Louis. Here are the top fifteen albums listed in the station’s mid-August 1971 survey:

Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
Tapestry by Carole King
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
Four Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Poems, Prayers & Promises by John Denver
Fifth by Lee Michaels
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East
Stephen Stills II
Mudslide Slim & The Blue Horizon by James Taylor
L.A. Woman by the Doors
Electric Hot Tuna
Who’s Next
High Time by the MC5
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues

I’ve corrected a couple of titles – on the Allman Brothers Band and James Taylor albums – and I have no idea what album Electric Hot Tuna is. The listings at discogs show First Pull Up, Then Pull Down as the group’s 1971 album, released in June 1971. I’m guessing it’s that album mistitled.

The major question I have there is the presence of the John Denver album on the list. Progressive? Poems was Denver’s fourth album and contained his first hit, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and I guess his version of folky country (or countryish folk, depending on your vantage point) night have seemed different enough to be progressive. To be honest, at the time this survey came out, one of the albums getting regular play in the rec room was Denver’s third album, Whose Garden Was This, which my sister had brought home some months earlier, and I liked it a lot.

It’s kind of hard to look back and recall how Denver was received and perceived in 1971 without letting a lot of the later stuff – his saccharine singles, his goofy persona, and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” – get in the way. In 1971, at least in St. Louis (and likely elsewhere), Denver was seen as a serious musician poised at that intersection of rock, pop, folk and country that always grabs my attention. I should listen to Poems, Prayers & Promises again with that in mind.

So how many of those albums ever came home with me? Twelve or thirteen of them. (There is some confusion about, again, the Hot Tuna album. About twenty-five years ago, just after I quit working for the newspaper in Eden Prairie, a friend from there offered me a crate of her college records; then, about ten years later, she called me and told me one of her children wanted them, if I would part with them, which of course I did. I also deleted the titles from my database (something I no longer do when I let an LP go).

I think the Hot Tuna album was one of those I got from Linda and later returned.

Otherwise, the only two albums on that list that I never brought home are those by Lee Michaels and the MC5. But none of those fifteen was in the cardboard box in the rec room as I sat there during August 1971. Aqualung would show up in November that year, as would my sister’s copy of Tapestry, and Sticky Fingers would arrive not quite a year later. The rest would take longer.

My favorites among those fifteen are – predictably – the albums by Carole King, the Rolling Stones, Stephen Stills, and the Moody Blues.

And that’s helpful because it provides a way to say farewell to Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer who died at the age of 80 yesterday in London. Many times through the years, as Sticky Fingers played, I’d stop whatever I was doing and listen to the album’s closer “Moonlight Mile” and nod as Watts’ drumming brought the song to its climax. Listening to it again is as good a way as any for a fan to say goodbye.

Saturday Single No. 749

Saturday, August 21st, 2021

As I noted yesterday, the first verse of Kate Wolf’s song “Across The Great Divide” – covered in yesterday’s post by the recently departed Nanci Griffith – starts thus:

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep
Countin’ troubles ’stead of countin’ sheep
Where the years went, I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

It continues:

I’ve been siftin’ through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
And it was one that happened so long ago

It’s gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide

And as I listened to Griffith’s 1993 album Other Voices, Other Rooms over the past few days, I found myself more and more often pushing the buttons that would bring the CD back to Track 1, “Across The Great Divide.” I was, I suppose, thinking – as Wolf no doubt intended – about the other great divide, the one that remains a mystery no matter how often someone we love, know, or simply admire crosses it.

I’m guessing that I first heard Wolf’s song in 2002, when I came across Gold In California, an anthology of Wolf’s work released in 1986, the same year that Wolf died at the age of 44. It was not quite a year later, when I was catching up with Griffith’s work, that I heard the Texas singer-songwriter’s version of the tune.

There are fourteen more versions of the song listed ay Second Hand Songs (and I imagine there are others, too), but I find myself oddly reluctant this morning to go digging among them. It’s as if I want the versions by Griffith and Wolf to remain alone in my head for a little while.

I recall a writing specialist say once, “Follow your instincts. If you’re not ready to write about something – and you have no deadline – don’t push it.” And just as I’m not yet ready to listen to other covers of “Across The Great Divide,” so am I not ready yet to write much more about Griffith, and I may never be.

Given that, a good account of her life and an appreciation of her work came from Mark Deming of AllMusic and is available here.

And, still following my instincts, we’ll shift gears here and close with a live version of my favorite song by Nanci Griffith, “Love At The Five & Dime.” In many cases, I prefer studio versions to live versions, but not this time. This performance of “Love At The Five & Dime” is cited at YouTube as being from a 1988 gig at the Houston club called Anderson Fair.* I think, though, that it is from a 1989 or 1991 episode of Austin City Limits. Either way, it shows, I think, Griffith’s charm, story-telling gifts, and her musicianship as well as anything else can. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

*The album One Fair Summer Evening, released in 1988, was made up of performances at Anderson Fair recorded on August 19 and 20 of that year. This performance of “Love At The Five & Dime” is not the one that was on the album, but it is very similar. (Text edited August 26, 2021.)

‘Walkin’ In My Sleep . . .’

Friday, August 20th, 2021

An appreciation of Nanci Griffith, who died last week, will show up here eventually. I’ve been listening to her music while trying to sort out a bunch of stuff that’s getting in my way. In the meantime, here’s Griffith doing a sweet cover of Kate Wolf’s “Across The Great Divide.”

It was the opening track on Griffith’s 1993 album of covers, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and I’m feeling its first verse potently these days:

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep
Countin’ troubles ’stead of countin’ sheep
Where the years went I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

Here’s the song:

George Is Gone

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

During my last year in Minot – the 1988-89 academic year – and for a few years after I’d left North Dakota, my buddy George was a constant in my life.

We’d met at a faculty workshop during the summer of 1989, and in a few weeks, we were having dinner once a week, set on finding ourselves a favorite restaurant in Minot, a task simplified by the limited offerings of the city of about 35,000. Soon enough, we were joined in our quest by Helen, one of George’s colleagues from the College of Education.

We never did find a favorite, but we had some decent meals and some good conversations. The three of us were all cat people – Helen and I of long-standing and George of recent vintage – and we took turns taking care of each other’s cats during absences from Minot during quarter and holiday breaks.

And George and I settled into a routine of having late-evening coffee either at his house or mine, talking about serious life issues or about frivolous nothings as we watched the evening news and then re-runs of Cheers.

During the summer of 1989, he and his brother Ed visited me in Minnesota, and the three of us –joined by my ladyfriend of the time – saw Bob Dylan in concert in downtown St. Paul. Then, after my ladyfriend had headed home, George and Ed and I talked over coffee until early morning in my apartment in the suburban town of Anoka.

I wandered off to Kansas and Missouri and then back to Minnesota, but phone conversations with George were a constant, and by the time I got back to Minnesota in the late summer of 1991, George was there, too, teaching at a private college in St. Paul. We had the occasional dinner but George was more occupied with his teaching and with his new lady, who was still in North Dakota but who was working to get to Minnesota. I understood, I’d been there.

And, as friends sometimes do, we began to drift apart. Some of that was George’s new commitment. He and his lady married and began to raise a late-in-life family, something he thought he’d never have the chance to do. Some of that drift – maybe most – was mine, as I spent the mid-1990s in a devastating depression, barely able to do more than go to work, go to the record store and go home and listen to music.

The last time I saw George was at the Minnesota State Fair sometime around 1995, when we took in a blues festival featuring B.B. King and Etta James. I knew he and his family were headed to California and teaching gigs at Cal-Berkeley, but I wasn’t sure when. And when I came out of my depression around 2001, George and his family were living in Oakland and I wasn’t in their lives.

I got in touch with him, and emails went back and forth for a brief time, but – just like in Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” – whatever we’d had once was gone. My fault? Maybe. George’s fault? Perhaps.

Just the way life sometimes is? Most likely.

I found him on Facebook a couple of years ago and left a message. I got no answer, which is what I expected. And he crossed my mind again this past weekend, so I searched again, and saw a listing for him in a small town in Maine. I searched further and found his obituary. He died about a year ago.

I know. We come into each other’s lives and leave each other’s lives for reasons, those reasons rarely discernible. George had been gone from my life for more than twenty years and I regret that, although I’m not sure I could have done anything to change it. I guess that at times I hoped I could reconnect with him and if things needed repairing, repair them. That chance, if it ever existed, is gone.

But I remember our late-night coffees, our late-night phone calls between Missouri and North Dakota, our bafflement at the odd behaviors of his two cats, Ginseng and Cinnamon, our love of football and good food and music, and all the things that go into a friendship, however brief it turned out to be.

Here’s a tune we tried to play together once. It didn’t work well, as he was using the words to the Byrds’ version, and I was singing the words Bob Dylan recorded with Artie Traum. (Dylan and Traum, we weren’t.) Here’s their 1971 recording of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” released in 1972 on Dylan’s second greatest hits collection.

Saturday Single No. 688

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

I woke this morning to the sad news that Little Richard has died. The cause was cancer, said his son, Danny Jones Penniman, in the Rolling Stone report.

That report covers Richard Penniman’s career and influence better than I can, so I’ll leave that alone. I’ll note that in a long ago (and long abandoned) book and website project with a friend, we tabbed Little Richard as one of the five biggest trees from which the rock ’n’ roll forest descended.

(The other four, for what it matters, were Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino. I think we likely nailed it, with the possible exception of Bo Diddley, unless one wants to go further back into late 1940s and early 1950s jump blues and R&B.)

Anyway, I’ve never said much about Little Richard here, and I’m not sure why. I’ve written some about his 1970s comeback albums on Reprise and his stuff has popped up occasionally in random draws. But as much as I respect his influence, for some reason, he’s never seemed central to my musical universe.

And the LP and CD shelves over the years have reflected that: A few hits packages and a two-CD re-release of those Reprise albums from the 1970s. That’s a pretty sparse – if stellar – collection of one of the founding fathers of the music I love. All I can say is that when pop-rock music grabbed me in 1969 and I began to explore its different roads, none of those early explorations brought me to Little Richard.

The closest I came was through Delaney & Bonnie and their 1970 album To Bonnie From Delaney, which came to me in late 1972. I recall reading through the notes as the record played and noticing that Little Richard supplied the piano on the second track on the second side, a cover (I now know) of his own 1956 record “Miss Ann.” At that point, being nineteen and still catching up, I knew his name but had heard little, if any, of his work.

So I sat there on our green couch in the rec room and listened as Little Richard proceeded to rip it up. That memory means that “Miss Ann” by Delaney & Bonnie – with Little Richard on piano – is today’s Saturday Single.

The Queen Of Soul

Friday, August 17th, 2018

I should have more to say about Aretha Franklin, who died yesterday at her home in Detroit, than it seems that I do.

It’s not that I don’t value or love her music. I have plenty of it – more than 130 tracks – on the digital shelves; I have several of her CDs; and a few LPs survived the Great Vinyl Sell-off the other year. And her music provided a lot of the soundtrack of my early teen years, years when I wasn’t listening to pop, rock and soul, but years when she was one of those artists – like the Beatles – whose music nevertheless seeped inside me without any effort on my part.

So why do I feel I have I so little to say?

Because Aretha Franklin as a subject for eulogy, memoir or memorial is too damned big. She towers over the music world in a way that few artists do. So I don’t know where to start or to end or even what to put in or leave out. And knowing that stuff is a huge part what I’m supposed to do as a writer, so that’s a little deflating.*

So what did Aretha mean to me? I was a little too young and a lot too white to grasp her impact when she came to Atlantic in 1966 and, well, I’m tempted to say she destroyed the existing order, but that’s a little too sweeping. Nevertheless, her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You knocked a lot of listeners back in their chairs or wherever they were sitting. And Aretha continued to do that, single after single, album after album, year after year.

But y’all know that. Ain’t nothin’ new there.

So, my favorite Aretha? Well, I put “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” in the Ultimate Jukebox almost ten years ago, saying:

I don’t have much to say about Aretha Franklin and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I mean, she’s Aretha, and the record was one of her forty-five Top 40 hits (covering a span of years from 1961 to 1998). Add that “Since You’ve Been Gone” went to No. 5 in the early spring of 1968 (and was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart), and all you need to do after that is listen.

See, even back then, Aretha was too big for me. There are, however, other Aretha records I like more than “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I love her take on “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” from 1972. And I love her sinuous cover of “Spanish Harlem” from 1971.

(So why, you might ask, did those two recordings not make it into the Ultimate Jukebox? Well, Lulu’s version of “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” showed up on my radio during my junior year of high school and attached itself forever to the memory of one whose attentions seemed unattainable, and I did not want two versions of the song in the project. And on the day I was choosing between Aretha’s version of “Spanish Harlem” and Ben E. King’s, I made the wrong choice.)

But that’s about me, and this is supposed to be about Aretha Franklin. So the least I can do is point you at the very good obituary and appreciation of her work written by Jon Bream that ran on the front page of this morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And maybe the best I can do this morning is to repeat what I posted at Facebook yesterday morning when I heard news of Aretha’s death:

There are plenty of reasons to grieve the loss of Aretha Franklin, but there are just as many reasons to celebrate our having had her here for so many years. So, by way of tribute, here’s her exultant “Freeway of Love” from 1985. (Saxophone courtesy of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons.)

R.I.P., Miss Franklin.

*As I think about that this morning, my mind looks to the future, and I know I’m going to feel the same way on the mornings after Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen leave this world. And that terrifies me and saddens me.

Saturday Single No. 594

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

I woke to the sad news this morning that Danny Kirwan, one-time guitarist and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac, died in London, according to a statement from Mick Fleetwood and the band.

Kirwan, who was 68, was a member of Fleetwood Mac from 1969 into 1972, an era when the band shifted its style from its blues-based origins to pop-rock, presaging the West Coast rock direction the band would take in the mid-1970s with the addition of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

By that time, Kirwan was gone, having been booted from the band in 1972 for alcoholism, according to Rolling Stone. He released four solo albums during the second half of the 1970s, but then his fortunes deteriorated, the magazine’s website says, quoting from a 1993 interview with the Independent in which Kirwan said, “I get by and I suppose I am homeless, but then I’ve never really had a home since our early days on tour. I couldn’t handle it all mentally and I had to get out. I can’t settle.”

In that interview, Kirwan then added, “I was lucky to have played for the band at all. I just started off following them around, but I could play the guitar a bit and Mick felt sorry for me and put me in. I did it for about four years, to about 1972, but . . . I couldn’t handle the lifestyle and the women and the traveling.”

Kirwan’s high point during his time with the group is almost certainly Bare Trees, the 1972 album for which he wrote five songs, including the title track. That track been seen here before, but it’s been a while, so in memory of Danny Kirwan, Fleetwood Mac’s “Bare Trees” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 556

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Boy, you go away for a week, and stuff piles up on you, in this case, folks crossing over. Walter Becker of Steely Dan left us on September 3, and country giant Don Williams and Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry both died on September 8. So this is the first moment I’ve had to sit down and really think about any of those deaths, and I’m not sure what to say. I’ll deal with Becker today and probably write about the other two next week, after we’re all unpacked and the laundry from the road is done.

When Steely Dan came along in 1972, I liked what I heard, and I still like it. All of the early albums – from 1972’s Can’t Buy A Thrill through 1980’s Gaucho – are on the digital shelves, even though I haven’t often written about the work of Becker, his partner Donald Fagen and the rest of the folks who laid down those sounds.

But liking Steely Dan isn’t enough for me to know what to say about its music. Trying to describe it, I once wrote of the Dan’s 1974 hit, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” that it had the visceral feel of that convalescent season, combing relief with “dissonance and odd angles and strange transitions.”

A far better assessment of what Becker meant to Steely Dan and to a fervent listener came the day after Becker crossed over. I frequently lean on the work of my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ when I either don’t know what to say or don’t know enough to write intelligently about something. Today I do so again. Go here and read jb’s reflections.

As for this space, it would too easy to post “Rikki” here this morning. So I’m going to dip into 1977’s Aja and the track whose lyrics tell us:

Well, the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last?
Home at last.

I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last, so “Home At Last” from Aja is today’s Saturday Single.

‘If You See Your Brother . . .’

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

So Glen Campbell’s journey has ended. The Arkansas-born musician – and how slender a reed that word seems, given Campbell’s accomplishments! – died Tuesday in Nashville from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.

As happens when someone of Campbell’s stature passes, it’s all over the news, and there seems to be no point in my repeating what others have reported at venues with wider reaches than this one. The New York Times’ coverage is here, and the report from Rolling Stone is here.

And I guess I’ll share here a link to the piece I wrote the day after the Texas Gal and I saw Campbell and his band at the Paramount Theatre here in St. Cloud. The show took place in May 2011, after Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but before that diagnosis was made public. When Campbell and his family made the public aware of his illness the next month, the Texas Gal and I both nodded, recalling moments during the show when Campbell has seemed a little confused.

Beyond the memories of that wonderful evening at the Paramount, I have plenty of Campbell’s music around: A total of 103 tracks on the digital shelves encompassing the four great 1960s albums, Gentle On My Mind, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston plus his 1968 album of duets with Bobbie Gentry and some other bits and pieces. And rummaging through them this morning, one of them brought me an “Oh, yes,” moment.

I have no idea what Glen Campbell would want for his musical epitaph, maybe something from his last album, Adiós, released earlier this year, or maybe something else from the final cluster of albums released since his condition was made public. But one of the tracks on my digital shelves spoke to me this morning. It went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1969, peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s country chart and was No. 1 for a week on the easy listening chart. Here’s “Try A Little Kindness.”

Another Departure . . .

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

I woke this morning to the news of another musical loss:

Singer/songwriter Michael Johnson, who spent a good share of his performing life in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, died Tuesday at his Minneapolis home. Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune offered a look at Johnson’s life and career in today’s paper, and that story is here.

The headline on Bream’s story highlights Johnson’s recording of “Bluer Than Blue,” and it’s true that “Bluer . . .” was Johnson’s greatest chart success, spending three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart during the spring of 1978 while going to No. 12 on the magazine’s Hot 100. And I recall hearing “Bluer Than Blue” on the radio during my days in Monticello, just as I recall hearing Johnson’s 1979 single “This Night Won’t Last Forever,” as it went to No. 5 on what had become the Adult Contemporary chart and to No. 19 on the Hot 100.

Both of those were fine singles, and beyond the musical pleasure I got from them, there was a little smidgen of joy as well that the man who made them was based in Minnesota. (Johnson, who was born in Colorado, made his home in Minnesota from 1969 to 1985, then returned here in 2007 after spending the intervening years in Nashville.) But that Minnesota connection is only one of three connections I have to Johnson’s music.

Another connection came through this blog during its early years, when I was exploring the music of Patti Dahlstrom. (Posts about her and her four 1970s albums are here.) During our email exchanges at the time, Patti noted that she and Tom Snow had written “Dialogue,” the title track of Johnson’s 1979 album, and she sent me an mp3 of the demo she and Snow had recorded. Here’s what Johnson did with it:

And then there was the first connection, the most visceral of the three. Johnson’s first album, the 1973 release There Is A Breeze, was one of those that we had on tape at the Pro Pace youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, during my 1973-74 college adventure. It probably didn’t get dropped into the tape player as frequently as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or the Allman Brothers Band’s Brothers & Sisters, but it was there.

And, as I’ve noted about the other music I heard in the lounge during those Danish days and nights, it only takes a few notes of any of the tunes on There Is A Breeze to remind me how those days and nights felt as well as how important they were in making me who I am today.

Of the seven or so mainstay albums were had on tape during our time in Denmark, Johnson’s There Is A Breeze was probably the last one I looked for, and it was difficult to find, though I admit my searching during the years 1974-77 was sporadic. I had other stuff to do and other music to find. My chance came during the autumn of 1977. I was working as a public relations officer at the St. Cloud CETA Center – CETA was a federal jobs program – and a co-worker brought in a box of records he was going to take across the street to Axis, a store that sold new and used records along with leather coats and hats.

And in the box was a copy of There Is A Breeze, which I gladly took home, listening to it that evening in the lake cabin where the Other Half and I were living for a couple months until we found out where my permanent job search would take me. And the first strains of the first track, “Pilot Me,” whisked me a few years back and four thousand miles away.

As I noted above, I remember hearing Michael Johnson’s two most successful singles in 1978 and 1979, but I have to admit I’ve not followed him closely. I had a vinyl copy of Dialogue, his 1979 album, but it did not survive the Great Vinyl Sell-off of last winter. And rummaging through the ’Net a couple of years ago, I found a two-CD repackaging of Johnson’s first three albums, beginning with There Is A Breeze, so I was also able to let my vinyl copy of that album go, too. (It was worn and a little banged, and no longer sounded very good.)

I suppose that if I were writing for a newspaper, I’d have to take into account – as did Jon Bream for the Minneapolis paper – all of Michael Johnson’s career as I write this morning. But what we do here – what Odd and Pop and I try to do – is to consider the music that’s mattered to me over the years. And with a stop at “Dialogue” to salute a distant friend, and acknowledging as well that Michael Johnson made a lot of very good music in his seventy-two years, I have to say . . .

Well, anyone who reads this space regularly knows where that’s going: There Is A Breeze is one of the treasures of my life, and here’s the opening track, “Pilot Me.”