Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nielsen schmilsen

I'm definitely not Nielsen material, unless they need sporadic and unpredictable TV viewers to level out their viewership curve. No, I'm just not your average TV Guy.

Nielsen actually sent me information a few years back and asked me to log what I was watching on the tube for an entire week. They must have been horrified at the results, which showed I had only seen three programs, including a rerun of "The Andy Griffith Show.'' (It must have been a rare week, since I usually watch at least two "Andys'').

I never heard back from them.

With the exception of ESPN, I don't know the channels on my set. (I only know ESPN because it was drilled into me at the newspaper. I'd be holding the remote and the guys in the room would shout "Turn it to 27! Turn it to 27!'') I thought a downtown bar must have been burning to the ground; they just wanted the baseball scores.

Come to think of it, I can also find WEDU on my local cable lineup. It's great when Public TV stations secure low numbers so you don't have to click too long to find them (in my case, No. 3.)

Pretty much everything else is a crap shoot. After I nearly missed an inning trying to check on the Rays-Twins game the other night, I decided to start consulting my old paper's TV Plus. (The guide's getting mighty thin, I have to tell you, but it's still far superior to the competition's rag).

While scouting for shaded (not necessarily shady) movies I spotted "North to Alaska'' on something called "PLEX.'' What the hell, I thought, you can always do worse than a shot of the Duke. It's worth popping corn just to hear Johnny Horton sing the theme song.

I turned to the handy Channel Lineup on Page 2 and found PLEX, which apparently is short for Movieplex. Aha, Channel 62! I flipped to the channel, only to read an on-screen announcement stating that my cable company is no longer carrying Movieplex. (However, they are kind enough to offer two other channels for an additional $3.95 a month.)

I turned to old reliable, Ch. 27, hoping to catch highlights of the Brewers-Pirates.

And now, to guarantee that you get some true SSS value today, here are last week's Top 5 prime time shows, according to the Nielsen rankings:

1. "American Idol" (Tuesday), Fox, 23.96 million viewers
2. "American Idol" (Wednesday), Fox, 23.95 million viewers
3. "Dancing With The Stars," ABC, 20.53 million viewers
4. "Dancing With The Stars Results," ABC, 14.73 million viewers
5. "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," CBS, 14.64 million viewers

Sadly, "The Jackie Gleason Show'' was nowhere to be found on the list -- even though I remember watching it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The measure of a legend

I hope you won't think it morbid to wish an old stock car racing legend happy birthday.

Dale Earnhardt, born in the halcyon year of 1951, would have been 58 today. And that made him a measuring stick for me. No matter how old I'd get, it would always be comforting to know I'd still be the same age as the baddest driver on the racetrack.

There was nobody like Earnhardt. Richard Petty may have been The King, but Earnhardt was The Intimidator, an almost sinister presence on NASCAR's oval tracks, perhaps as hated as he was loved. Like baseball's Yankees, you felt strongly one way or the other. And he played the roles of hero and villain equally well.

Eight years is a long time and lot of miles, but one thing I'll never forget, can't forget...

I had been looking for a Sunday column angle to set up the 2001 Daytona 500 when I remembered a phone conversation a few years earlier with a good old boy from North Carolina. He talked like he had marbles in his mouth, and I'm almost certain he had crawled out from under a car chassis to take the call that day.

Turns out the guy had worked on Earnhardt's first professional race car, back in those early years kicking up dust on the dirt tracks around Kannapolis, N.C. Anyway, sensing this guy wasn't going to give me much time, I got right to the point.

"Is it true that Dale Earnhardt's first race car was painted pink?''

There was a long pause. "Waaaaaaaall,'' the mechanic finally answered. "God's honest truth, it was supposed to've been APE-ri-cot.''

Dale's sister picked out the color, he explained, but somebody mixed the paints wrong. The car was soon repainted, but not until Earnhardt had run a few races in it. The pink K-2 Ford Victoria has since become a collectible diecast model.

In retelling the story for my column I wondered how history might have treated Earnhardt differently had he earned the nickname "Pinky'' before he could become "The Intimidator.''

The silly comment became a sick joke when Earnhard was killed on the final lap at Daytona. He was 49, just like me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A shot of Tequila

One-hit wonders? There was nothing more unlikely than the Champs, who weren't even the Champs when they recorded "Tequila'' as a last-minute B side.

As legend has it, some of the artists had already left the studio on Dec. 23, 1957, after recording "Train to Nowhere'' (now that would have been a fitting name for the band). The session players that remained included saxophonist Danny Flores, who wrote "Tequila'' on the spot and recorded it in three takes as a flip side.

Released by Challenge Records on Jan. 15, 1958, "Train to Nowhere'' was doing just that until a Cleveland DJ flipped the record and started playing "Tequila.'' It became a runaway locomotive, charting for 19 weeks and steaming to No. 1 on this date in 1958. It won the Grammy Award for best R&B record of the year.

The Champs tried to match their success with "Too Much Tequila'' and "Tequila Twist'', but spontaneity cannot be repeated or contrived.

And for those of you who enjoy the complete lyrics to these songs, I'm happy to oblige:


Monday, April 27, 2009

Better practice this one at home

And with the 256th and final pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs select South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop...

Thus ended the latest edition of pro football's annual meat market, and one more request for the greatest yodeling song of all time. We're refering to, of course, "Cattle Call,'' covered by many country artists but none better than Eddy Arnold, who took it to No. 1 in 1955. (Dwight Yoakam deserves props for the version on his album "In Others' Words'').

The cattle are prowlin' the coyotes are howlin'
Out with the doggies bawl
Where spurs are jinglin' a cowboy is singin'
This lonesome cattle call

I thought you had to be from the Alps to yodel like that. Man! Hear it for yourself:

ESPN didn't have the calf balls (a delicacy in cattle country) to use "Cattle Call'' as a lead-in to its draft coverage, but you couldn't find a more appropriate song. Maybe I'll propose an SNL skit.

For hours he will ride on the rand far and wide
When the night wind blows up a squall
His heart is a feather in all kinds of weather
He sings his cattle call

Here's hoping the fresh truckload of steers headed for Green Bay reports on time, agrees to contract terms, learns the playbook, gains muscle mass and passes all drug screens. And acts particularly menacing toward anything wearing purple.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

You have 56 days to learn this song...

...and grow some really cool muttonchops.

In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather's fine
You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

If her daddy's rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy's poor just do what you feel
Speed along the lane
Do a ton or a ton an' twenty-five
When the sun goes down
You can make it, make it good in a lay-by

We're no threat, people, we're not dirty, we're not mean
We love everybody but we do as we please
When the weather's fine
We go fishin' or go swimmin' in the sea
We're always happy
Life's for livin' yeah, that's our philosophy

Sing along with us
Dee dee dee-dee dee
Dah dah dah-dah dah
Yeah we're hap-happy
Dah dah-dah
Dee-dah-do dee-dah-do dah-do-dah
Dah-dah-dah do-dah-dah

When the winter's here, yeah it's party time
Bring your bottle, wear your bright clothes
It'll soon be summertime
And we'll sing again
We'll go drivin' or maybe we'll settle down
If she's rich, if she's nice
Bring your friends and we'll all go into town

Chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to butter a bologna sandwich

Whatever became of Doug "Cosmo'' Clifford? And just how good was he?

It was Clifford's 64th birthday Friday, and all we could predict with any degree of certainty is that he wouldn't be receiving a greeting card from John Fogerty. The in-fighting, eventual breakup and post-breakup sniping among members of Creedence Clearwater Revival was never as publicized as the demise of The Beatles. But it was just as nasty.

And Clifford, the band's drummer, was right in the middle of it. In fact, bassist Stu Cook once called he and Clifford "the bologna in the middle'' of a Fogerty sandwich. It should be noted that the ''other'' Fogerty, rhythm guitarist Tom (who died in 1990), didn't consider himself much better off than Cook and Clifford in dealings with his more talented and famous songwriting and guitar blazing brother. Tom was first to quit the band after the late 1970 release of the album "Pendulum.''

Someone told me long ago
There's a calm before the storm
I know, it's been coming for some time
When it's over so they say
It'll rain a sunny day
I know, shining down like water

Did those lyrics signal the end of CCR? Some people maintain the song is about Vietnam. Others claim it relates to drug use (which seems ridiculous), and still others suggest it is a metaphor for the fading idealism in post-Sixties America. John Fogerty has said, no, it is about the changing vibe of the band and the imminent departure of his brother. He wrote the song; why don't we go with his story.

The "Pendulum'' was literally swinging in the wrong direction for CCR with the release of its sixth album. Tensions had been high between John and his bandmates, who sought more creative input and didn't think their musical leader should be directing the business end of things. Although the album contained two top 10 singles, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain'' and "Hey Tonight'', it was heavy on horns and keyboards -- a departure from the classic guitars/drums/bass formula that was a staple for rock bands of that era.

Clifford and Cook hung around for one more album, "Mardi Gras'' (by far the band's least impressive effort), after which CCR officially disbanded in 1972. Tom cut several uninspiring solo albums before dying of AIDS, believed to be the result of a blood transfusion. Everyone knows about John's long-running legal feud with Fantasy Records and his personal revival as a songwriter and performer.

What about the "bologna brothers''? They eventually formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited and enjoyed surprising success on the concert circuit, no easy feat without John's stellar guitar playing and distinctive vocals.

But just how good was Cosmo? We know he had a great album named for him (''Cosmo's Factory''), and nobody seemed to complain about him when CCR was blazing its swamp boogie trail. It's just that drummers, like bass players, tend to be interchangeable parts in a band (unless you happen to be Levon Helm in THE Band.)

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
Comin down, sunny day

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and more. Besides his dependable work behind the drum kit, perhaps Clifford, like Ringo, provided an essential dynamic that was impossible to measure. Maybe he was the butter, not the bologna. Or maybe I'm just getting hungry.

Happy belated birthday, Cosmo, wherever you are. I hope that sun is shining for you today.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gibson offers reward for stolen sculpture

As a public service to my friends at Gibson Guitar, I share this press release (and I would like to emphasize that I have been nowhere near Orlando in the past week):


Gibson Guitar Offers Reward for Stolen Orlando GuitarTown Sculpture

Orlando, Florida….April 24, 2009….Gibson Guitar, presenting sponsor of Orlando GuitarTown along with the City of Orlando and the Downtown Arts District has announced a reward for the return of the ten foot guitar sculpture which went missing this week and is presumed stolen. An official police report has been filed for the sculpture titled “B Creative” which was painted by local visual artist David Brotherton. The guitar was placed at the Graze Restaurant located at 100 S. Eola Drive in Orlando. It is painted in a grey and white motif depicting the history of Rock-n-Roll and was sponsored by Prudential Florida Realty. The guitar sculpture was scheduled to be picked up this week to be ready in time for the Orlando GuitarTown Gala scheduled for May 7, 2009. The ten foot tall Gibson guitar sculpture is part of the arts project which benefits local charities. A stolen guitar of this kind represents several thousands of dollars the charities potentially will now not receive unless the sculpture is returned on time.

Gibson Guitar announced a reward to the person or persons who provide the tip that leads to the successful return of the “B Creative” Orlando GuitarTown sculpture. If the sculpture is returned to by the person or persons who allegedly took it no later than midnight, Saturday, April 25, 2009 to either the Graze Restaurant location or the Gibson Guitar showroom located at 25 East Central Blvd, Orlando, Florida 32801, no questions will be asked and those responsible will have the chance to remain anonymous. If the guitar is not returned, Gibson Guitar and the City of Orlando intends to prosecute the suspects to the fullest extent of the law based on the theft. The City of Orlando, local authorities and other partners have all been notified and videotape documentation provided by security camera of the downtown location are being reviewed for identities.

If you have a tip or know where the stolen guitar can be retrieved you may call 1-800-4Gibson, Ext. 2431 anonymously. The person(s) supplying the information which leads to the recovery of this guitar will receive the reward and can be guaranteed that their identity will remain confidential.

For more information or press inquiries please email Caroline Galloway at or call 615-423-4904. Hi-res image of missing guitar available upon request.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A spoonful from TV land

Back about this time in 1976, in the space of just 10 weeks, two different TV theme songs made it to the top of the Billboard charts.

Make what you want of that.

It was weird, though, because until "Theme from 'S.W.A.T' '' rose to No. 1 there had never been a TV song in the catbird's seat. Not "Bonanaza'' (No. 19) or "Peter Gunn'' (No. 8) or "Batman'' (No. 10) or even "The Rockford Files'' (No. 10). Perhaps not as weird, I seem to have no recollection of either the show "S.W.A.T'' or its signature tune.

That's not the case for TV's second No. 1 song. Any old rocker worth the threads on his favorite flannel shirt would remember John Sebastian and "Welcome Back'', which he wrote and recorded for "Welcome Back, Kotter.''

Sebastian and The Lovin' Spoonful had a string of lite rock hits in the late Sixties, including "Do You Believe in Magic'', "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice'', "Daydream'' and their one No. 1 song, "Summer in the City.'' (The back of my neck gets dirty and gritty just thinking of that one.)

According to Billboard, Sebastian wrote the TV theme song without making reference to the name Kotter, as he could only think of one word that rhymed with it (otter). The show's producers apparently liked the song well enough to change the series from "Kotter'' to "Welcome Back, Kotter.''

And the rest, as Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta) might tell you, is "up your nose with a rubber hose.''

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dos Jimbos Comes Alive!

It's Peter Frampton's 59th birthday today, and we found ourselves prepared.

Last night Zach and I sat down and hammered out "Baby I Love Your Way'' -- one of the hit singles off the classic "Frampton Comes Alive!'' album that still receives heavy airplay on classic rock FM stations 33 years after its release. (Even though, it seems, some people were introduced to Frampton more recently on an episode of "Family Guy.'')

We had been plunking around for a week playing different riffs, beats and melodies (some of it actually sounding pretty good) without finding the discipline or desire to tackle a single song from start to finish.

But last night, after Zach restrung the old Gibson LG-2 "Cotton Queen'' with D'Addario phosphor bronze lights and Pop changed out the Elixirs on the Martin 000-28, we discovered energy in the new volume and brighter tones we were suddenly generating.

A song was percolating in our bones. Could a gig be far behind?

There we were, father and son, working the fretboards for the truth. Dos Jimbos? The old oak and an acorn that had landed, as it turns out, very close to the tree. Strumming the night away in Bradenton, Fla., far from Zach's friends and bandmates back in Richfield, Minn. But in very close proximity to where Frampton's music first entered my brain back in 1976. Now those were the days...

A simple chord progression we had been playing for days without really connecting to any definite songs, G/D/A minor, suddenly became the chorus to "Baby I Love Your Way.'' And we were on our way...

Ooh, baby I love your way
Wanna tell you I love your way
Wanna be with you night and day

Once we learned the F7, a sweet signature chord that anchors the song's verses, there would be no stopping us. Zach found the voice that been trapped inside him, and were wailing in harmony to one of those timeless songs that just needs to be played.

Shadows grow so long before my eyes
And they're moving across the page
Suddenly the day turns into night
Far away from the city
But don't hesitate, 'cause your love won't wait

Do you wonder how fireflies have the power to shine, shine, shine? We know that now. Learned it last night...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monkey fighting snakes?

We were watching "Snakes on a Plane'' on TV, and don't ask me why. I guess there were no first-round NBA games being televised (ha ha!). And we had heard the movie was awful and we just had to see for ourselves.

It was worse than that. And better.

Let me explain. An old colleague used to tell me there is no such thing as a bad movie. He maintained that every movie, no matter how wretched, has some redeeming qualities. I always remember that when I'm laughing hysterically at a film that's supposed to be scary or serious. "Snakes'' is so unintentionally funny it's impossible to believe it was supposed to terrify audiences.

In addition to the ridiculously contrived plot and some god-awful acting, TV viewers get the added bonus of one of the most spectacular vocal overdubs in film history. In fact, it proves to be that most ''redeeming quality'' my friend used to tell me about. Watch for yourself:

If you saw the film in a theatre (sorry about that) or on DVD, you know what Samuel Jackson was really spouting. Apparently the movie was filled with objectionable language, but nobody uses the F-bomb more effectively than that bad-ass. So when he rips one off, you definitely want to hear it.

But monkey fighting snakes? On a Monday to Friday plane? Are you f-ing kidding me? What mother f-ing editor changed the mother f-ing words to that?

We were just wondering.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pssst: Long live the Texas groover

A comment to a recent blog mentioned the late Doug Sahm, and I'm here to report there's a great tribute album to Sir Doug now out there for your enjoyment.

Tribute albums can be a little like buying candy cigarettes (and isn't it interesting that record stores are about the only places where you can find them these days?) When you open the box there's something sweet to chew on, but nothing to light up and really inhale. And, if you're like me, you like to take some deep draws when you're listening to music.

No problem with "Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm.'' There's smoke coming out of the jewel case when you open it up. It's hard to believe Sahm has been gone for going on 10 years (the victim of a heart attack at age 58), but this compilation helps rekindle a fire for the original Texas groover.

Little Willie G. (with Ry Cooder on guitar) begins with a rollicking take on Sahm's most recognizable romp "She's About a Mover.'' It brings you back to the days of the Sir Douglas Quintet -- a ruse Sahm used to score a Top 15 single during the British Invasion, before he returned to blaze a wide and influential trail of Tex-Mex grooves across his native Texas.

Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Alvin, Jimmie Vaughan and Delbert McClinton -- each strongly influenced by Sahm -- weigh in with favorite covers of their own. Freda & the Firedogs (Marcia Ball), Joe "King'' Carrasco, Flaco Jimenez and Charlie Sexton are among the other artists contributing tracks. And Sahm's son Shawn, who assembled the music and co-produced the album, closes with "Mendocino'' -- another Sir Douglas romp.

Co-producer Bill Bentley writes in the CD notes: "All of the artists on this album, each and every one of them stone cold Doug Sahm fans to the end, have opened up their souls for the person who helped them discover their own inspiration. They do it with a sound as big as Texas itself, for the only Lone Star State Musician there can ever be.''

Here is music that will get you down the highway with a smile on your face and a good beat in your bones. Please share PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) No. 7 with familia and compadres.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Make room for New Roman Times

Zach admitted he was skeptical. He is, after all, the son of a natural-born cynic seasoned by years of newspaper toils and hardened by the insanity and utter bleakness of our current times. But enough about my deep personal issues.

We had just quenched our thirst at a bar on Dale Mabry Boulevard in Tampa and we were driving back to Vinyl Fever to hear a band play an in-store set. Sure, it could have been a bomb. We had already done our shopping on National Record Store Day and the beer at the Press Box was good and cold. Why risk going back for a band I had only heard on MySpace? A band that would be playing a hastily-assembled set in the corner of a busy store with borrowed PA equipment? Was the old man off his rocker?
A planned event was threatening our week of avowed spontaneity. I could almost hear Zach telling me: You wouldn't know indie power rock if it split your eardrums. And he would have been right.

But I know now. And we both know this: New Roman Times can bring it, in a big way. If you have a chance to see the Austin-based band live -- in a store, club, parking lot, anywhere they care to set up -- you better go.

The store's promotional blurb had compared NRT to Bloc Party, Stars and Arcade Fire, which means very little to me. Maybe it's time to give those bands a listen. But they don't have Josie Fluri, our new favorite bass player. Or lead guitarist Harris Thurmond, who could not be penned in by the store's cramped quarters. Or singer/guitarist Daniel Owens, the ring leader of this rich, driving, techno-fueled sound. Or percussionist Michael Allen.

An hour later, after meeting the band members and getting our new copies of "On the Sleeve'' signed, we were driving across the Gandy Bridge into St. Pete, still reverberating from the wild set, unwilling to spoil the moment by turning on the CD player. Basking in the afterglow of New Roman Times.

I could almost hear Zach saying: My indie-rocking old man really knows his stuff.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Vinyl fever -- catch it today!

Did you remember today is National Record Store Day?

Zachman and I are headed to Vinyl Fever in Tampa ("Best of the Bay Since 1981") to snag a few CDs and check out the scene. Somebody mentioned free beer and pizza, and the Austin indie band New Roman Times will be playing in advance of their CD release party tonight at the New World Brewery in Ybor City. There will be goody bag giveaways and all sorts of exclusive new releases pegged to this event. It should be, like, cwazy.

We'll also be bringing a donation of canned goods for America's Second Harvest of Tampa Bay, and we hope we DON'T win a Stanton turntable in the raffle because, well, that would force us to rethink our plan and concentrate on classic vinyl and new 7" releases -- a dangerous change in strategy.

It'll be great to re-visit the chaos of a bustling record store, where something calls to you from every nook and corner of the shop -- the newest releases, classic album dust covers, concert posters, crazy T-shirts, stupid buttons and the ever-inviting used bins, where hidden treasures lurk.

My last visit to Grimey's New and Preloved Music I had such an impressive stack at the checkout counter that one of the appreciative co-owners added a free store T-shirt to my pile. Then I turned back to look for Lori, my music maven niece and Nashville tour guide, who was laden with more stash than me. They must smile when they see us coming.

Nobody said it would be easy today for me and my trusty wing man. All we can promise is we'll give it our best shot, and let the platters fall where they may.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pride and prejudice

It was hard watching baseball the other day when every player was wearing jersey number 42, in honor of Jackie Robinson's historic major league debut 62 seasons ago. A cool tribute, but without players' names to follow it became a little tough on casual fans.

No. 42 winds up and delivers ... No. 42 drives a ball to center field, glancing off No. 42's outreached glove, allowing Nos. 42 and 42 to score! No. 42 is standing at second with a double, and coming to the plate is ... No. 42!

And it made me wonder: What have we done lately for Charlie Pride? When we hear about someone "breaking the color barrier'' how can we forget about our most successful black country & western performer? Pride himself was a promising Negro League player in the Fifties who did a tour of duty in the Army before eventually breaking into the lily-white country music industry in 1966.

What followed is hard to fathom. Pride had a stretch of 13 No. 1 songs in 1969-73 that helped him win CMA Entertainer of the year in 1971 and Male Vocalist in 1971-72. Included in that stretch was "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone'' which was perched at No. 1 on this date in 1970.

Rain dripping off the brim of my hat
It sure is cold today
Here I am walking down sixty-six
Wish she hadn't done me that way

Between 1966-89 Pride had 29 No. 1 songs -- more than Eddie Arnold, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Eddie Arnold or Willie Nelson. He became the first black regular in the Grand Ole Opry, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and received a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not bad for the son of a sharecropper from Sledge, Miss.

Wind whipping down the neck of my shirt
Like I ain't got nothing on
But I'd rather fight the wind and rain
Than what I've been fighting at home

Pride's distinctive baritone could turn any song into a gritty journey of self-awakening. Yes, things could sound mighty bleak listening to him wail with a fiddle screeching in the background...

Is anybody goin' to San Antone
Or Phoenix Arizona
Any place is alright as long as I

Can forget I've ever known her

There's no forgetting Charlie Pride. But what have we done for him lately?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Of bullfrogs and puppy dogs

Has anybody ever figured out Three Dog Night?

I remember listening to a live album where the stage announcer declares "Please welcome one of the heaviest groups in America ... Three! Dog! Night!'' And the crowd goes wild.

Huh? This was back in the early Seventies, and I was busy trying to be a hippie, growing my hair out for the first time (while I still could) and, you know, learning important hippie lessons. And the term "heavy'' just didn't apply to this band. That would have worked with Iron Butterfly, a contemporary. Or Steppenwolf (except for the fact they were Canadian).

You just didn't think of 3DN as being heavy, especially when they opened one of their most popular and successful songs with "Jeremiah was a bullfrog...''

Yet "Joy to the World'' spent six weeks -- six weeks! -- at the top of the Billboard charts at this time in 1971. And, despite the bubble gum lyrics, I submit that it's not a terrible song. (You may strongly disagree, especially now that I've put the melody back in your head.)

A review of the band's biggest hits suggests they might actually have been one of the greatest cover bands ever, or at least a band that turned other artists' songs into hits.

There was "Mama Told Me Not to Come'' (Randy Newman), "Eli's Coming'' (Laura Nyro), "Easy to be Hard'' (from 'Hair'), and "Old Fashioned Love Song'' (Paul Williams). And "Joy'' was written by Hoyt Axton, who reportedly penned it for an animated children's television special that never went into production. Could it be the lyrics "You know I love the ladies, love to have my fun'' were deemed innappropriate?

That's all I know. If you tell me Cory Wells was the greatest white soul singer of all time, I'm not going to argue. I'm just not.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's a taxing situation

One of few beneficial offshoots for the gainfully unemployed: The federal government isn't going to hurt you as much as in previous years. Now don't get me wrong. I'd rather have a good-paying job with benefits and take my chances with the IRS, but you look for a silver lining wherever you can find it.

As for how to commemorate this dreaded tax deadline day in song, the Beatles' "Taxman'' traditionally gets a boost in play on April 15. (H&R Block even used it in commercials a few years ago.) "Taxman'' appears on the 1966 Revolver album and shows the lads in full experimentation, with George Harrison writing the lyrics to the song and Paul providing some biting guitar licks (a rare combination indeed).

But today I have an itch for some bluesy guitar, so I'm opting for Robert Cray's "1040 Blues'' from his Shame + a Sin album.

Worried, you betcha ya'
Discouraged I don't know
Every time I see a 1040
Out of my pocket it goes
I hate taxes...

Now don't forget to file for that extension.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Esquire's mad musical misses

Here's what I like about Esquire: 12 issues for 8 bucks. Cheap!

Here's what I don't like about Esquire: its bizarre view of music. I realize I'm about 35 years too old to be a member of their target audience. I'm not going to buy the shoes, clothes, watches, cars and cologne advertised in the magazine (even though the ads are VERY impressive). And I'm certainly not going to run out and buy the music they tout (although occasionally they hit on something I actually like).

At least they hedge it when they tease you with "Music Albums Your Collection Must Include'' followed by a list of "75 albums every man should own.'' They make no claims about these being essential records you should listen to because they're good. And it's a guy list, but I'd be careful not to play some of these when you have a special lady visiting your crib. It could ruin your night.

Some of the albums are worthy, like Springsteen's "Darkness of the Edge of Town'', Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks'', Taj Mahal's "Giant Step'', the Beatles' "Rubber Soul'', and one gem mentioned in a previous blog: Ray Charles' "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.'' I give them props for including Townes Van Zant's "Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas.''

But there are so many strange misses the list begins to read like a Mad Magazine parody. I'm duty bound now to provide a link:

This list will never be confused with anything ever assembled by Rolling Stone, or any publication that takes music seriously.

There's a chance you won't agree with me. There's also a chance you're wearing expensive cologne right now.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Remember the record store

I need a record store fix. Maybe you need one too. But unless we live in a big city, it's about as easy to find a good independent record shop as it is to find a telephone booth. And that's a shame.

It's not even easy to locate a decent CD store. The only quality store in my town, Boogie Woogie, has been closed for months. The only other one I'm familiar with here is too dreadful to name. I tried to trade some used CDs there recently and was offered $1 a disc -- and they were only accepting CDs that were no more than two years old. What's that about?

It makes me pine for my two favorite record shops: Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, and Grimey's in Nashville. (Both were featured in a 2008 Paste magazine story "The Record Store: A Good Thing''). I wish I could be in either of them today to hunt for old vinyl gems, check out the latest imports and just mill around in a cool environment where music is the common denominator.

Hundreds of independent shops around the country will celebrate National Record Store Day on April 18, so go to and find a shrine near you. Then visit, or be vinyl.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Coming out of the punk vault

Another one of those rare admissions: I never had the gear or the motor to pull off the punk music scene. The only jacket I owned with leather was my old Whitehall Norsemen letter jacket. The only chains I cared about were the ones that helped keep me out of the ditch during another Wisconsin winter. And, sadly, already it was too late for me to consider a Mohawk haircut.

Funny thing, though. Punk fans really looked no different than the "greasers'' of my Fifties youth who combed their hair into ducktails, wore engineer boots and rolled their cigarette packs into T-shirt sleeves. Greasers were Gothic before Gothic was cool, and they always had the best rides.

The big difference between greasers and punkers -- besides the wide cultural bridge that separates them by two stone-different decades -- was the music that propelled them. For greasers, it was the early rock 'n' roll that would be revitalized by Sha Na Na and then vaporized by the TV show Happy Days. For punk fans, it was the music of the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash and hundreds of bands I never heard of, much less gave a listen to. My loss, as it turns out.

It's never too late to revisit an earlier period and sift through the carnage for clues, if you will, especially now that we have the musical time machine known as Wolfgang's Vault. This weekend's featured concert is a 1974 Mike Bloomfield show at the Record Plant. Among the B-Side Concerts is a hidden treasure for West Coast punk fans: Pearl Harbor and the Explosions at the Oakland Auditorium in late 1979. I dare you to visit:

I learned a lot about Pearl E. Gates (formerly of Leila and the Snakes) this morning as I clicked around while listening to excerpts of that concert. Then I went to YouTube for an actual look-see. Unless you were a Bay Area punker at the time, you might have missed her:

Even if you saw the Explosions live, it's possible you don't remember. Here's a comment (unedited) left at the YouTube site:

I saw them open for the Talking Heads in 1980 at Rec Hall at penn State University.I got quite buzzed prior to the show therefore I have no recollection of their performance.This helps.Thx for the post.

I'm not saying I'm going to start playing their music in my pickup truck. I'm just saying...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Watch out for those frog ponds

Maybe you can help me. The Masters golf tournament is in full swing and I'm scrambling to find lyrics to the old Loudon Wainwright III song, "Golfin' Blues'' from his Final Exam album. I thought everything was readily available online these days with one simple click, but all I've come up with -- other than the loose line "watch out for that frog pond'' -- is a chorus that goes like this:

Mr. Jones shot an eagle
Mr. Smith shot a par
Mr. Green shot a bogey
Now he's drinking in the clubhouse bar

I had the privilege of covering The Masters in 2000 and it's one of the highlights of my career. That was the year David Duvall was dialed in and could have won it, but the Green Jacket went instead to Vijay Singh.

(A little-known perk: Media members would put their business cards in a big fish bowl, and a dozen or so lucky names would be drawn. Their prize: A chance to tackle Augusta National on Monday after the tournament. All you had to do was pay for an Augusta caddie (at $100, the best bargain of our lives).

I remember asking a reporter buddy of mine from South Florida (let's call him "Mr. Green'') why he had driven his car up to the tournament instead of flying. "Because I've got my sticks in the trunk, and I'm planning to pull them out on Monday,'' he replied.

He got to play, the lucky bastard. I can't remember how many "frog ponds'' he encountered, but he said he thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The flip side that changed the world

You know how I hate to send you to another link and lose my captive audience, but there's just no better way to introduce this blog. Don't be lazy now, I promise won't be disappointed. Click:

Carl Perkins was one cool cat. He wasn't ahead of his time -- it WAS his time, and he didn't slow down for anybody. But in the early Fifties not everybody else -- particularly traditional country radio -- was ready to embrace the rockabilly sound. What was a dirt-poor boy from rural Tennessee (born on this date in 1932) doing playing guitar and singing like that?

Amazingly, much of America didn't hear "Honey Don't'' until the Beatles covered it in 1964 featuring Ringo's voice and the twangy intro of George Harrison's 1962 Gretsch Tennesseean. Eight years earlier Sun Records had put it on the B side of "Blue Suede Shoes.'' But there was no hiding the beat or the message on the flip side. "Honey Don't'' may have influenced more artists than any other rockabilly song.

Go back and play the video again. I'll make easy for you. Just click here:

The lesson: You didn't need more than a snare drum and a standup bass if you had Carl Perkins in front of a microphone with an electric guitar.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Trying to reason with hurricane season

Forgive me for this rant, but those of you who have lived in a hurricane zone will understand. First, some mood music...

Squalls out on the gulf stream, big storms comin' soon
I passed out in my hammock, God I slept 'till way past noon
Stood up and tried to focus
I hoped I wouldn't have to look far
I knew I could use a Bloody Mary
So I stumbled next door to the bar

Each year we're subjected to continual predictions about the storm season. First they predict, then they re-predict, and then they re-predict yet again -- months before tropical conditions could possibly spawn the first storm.

The "official'' Atlantic hurricane season runs June through November, and by December forecasters already are chiming in with their early takes on the next summer's storm activity. This gives us plenty of time to run out and buy plywood, extra batteries and water.

I mention this today because headlines in the local papers indicate that the "experts'' at Colorado State University (where else would you go for accurate hurricane information?) have already backed off their original prediction from last December. Now they're predicting 12 tropical storms and 6 hurricanes this season, down slightly from their original position.

It gets really comical when in midseason, if storm activity is either higher or lower than predicted, the experts will change their predictions to match what is happening in the Atlantic. To use a baseball analogy, this is like making the 2008 preseason prediction that the Tampa Bay Rays would finish last in their division, then after they became contenders, re-predict they'll finish higher than last place.

And now I must confess, I could use some rest
I can't run at this pace very long
Yes it's quite insane, I think it hurts my brain
But it cleans me out and then I can go on

I think I could use that Bloody Mary.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

He's not that easy to forget

I wanna go home
I wanna go home
Oh, how I wanna go home...

Happy birthday, Bobby Bare!

That lonely voice on the radio sure made me wonder how anybody could last for long in "Detroit City'', the song that launched Bare's career in 1963.

An easy-going guy who wrote a few great songs and made excellent choices on covering others, Bare might have been too laconic and unassuming to grab the spotlight that was always waiting for him. He did score one No. 1 song ("Marie Laveau'' in 1974 -- which directly followed the No. 2 he had with his 8-year old son, Bobby Jr., "Daddy What If'').

Bobby Jr. (an Indie rocker fronting the Young Criminals Starvation League) was chiefly responsible for his daddy's return to the Music City scene in 2005 with the release of "The Moon Was Blue'' on Dualtone Records. It was Bare's first album in more than 20 years, and turns out it was worth the wait.

Bare still has a sweet, mellow voice, and he's not afraid to tackle some surprising classics. It's probably safe to say that "Shine On Harvest Moon'', "It's All in the Game'', "Yesterday When I Was Young'' and "Everybody's Talkin' '' had never been done before on the same album. Oh, and it would be just plain wrong to forget "Am I that Easy to Forget''.

I'm not sure what Bare is up to today -- other than celebrating his 74th birthday. I think I'll join him by raising a glass now and giving "The Moon Was Blue'' another listen.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Play ball!

Major League Baseball is back, a perfect time to tip your cap to Jack Norworth for writing the lyrics to one of the grandest songs ever. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame'' has been a hit with fans since it was introduced in 1908.

In explaining why he began the tradition of singing it during the seventh-inning stretch at Cubs games, announcer Harry Caray said: "I think it was the only song I knew the words to!"

You don't need a better excuse than that. (But I swear I heard Harry botch the lyrics many times.)

It's also a snap to play on the guitar. Here are the chords for the six-stringers among you:

G//////////////// D ////
Take me out to the ball game
G ///////////////////D ////
Take me out with the crowd
E ///////////////////////Am ////
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
A7 ////////////D7 ////
I don't care if I ever get back
////////G //////////////////D ////
Well it's root, root, root for the home team
///G/////// G7 //////C /Am
If they don't win it's a shame
///////C A7 G///////////// E
For it's 1, 2, 3 strikes - you're out
//////A7 D7 G ////
at the old ball game

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Behold a White Whale

The Turtles -- surely you remember them? If you were flipping through a stack of 45s you'd be searching for the powder blue label of White Whale Records.

Supposedly the band name's original spelling had a 'y' instead of a 'u', but they were never going to be the Byrds. They had a pretty good run though, and on this day in 1967 they were "Happy Together'' for three weeks at No. 1.

Like the Byrds, they had used a Bob Dylan song ("It Ain't Me Babe'') to gain national attention. And they pretty much stayed in the folk-pop vein once they realized it was more successful than their California-based surf roots.

"Happy Together'', "You Baby'' and "She'd Rather Be With Me'' were all hits for the Turtles and White Whale, a small L.A. label whose menagerie included The Drongos, Everpresent Fullness, John's Children and lyme & cybelle (which reportedly was a Warren Zevon "project'').

Our music filters in 1967 would soon be tasked to process some divergent forms. Psychedelia was bubbling up on the West Coast and (gasp) bubble gum was about to spread like a plague throughout the land. Up to this point commercial stations had been feeding us the Milk and Honey: Folk and pop music, reinforced and bolstered by British and Motown influences.

Times were good. And the timing couldn't have been better for the Turtles, who fit nicely atop the Billboard Top 5:

1. Happy Together, Turtles
2. Dedicated to the One I Love, Mamas and the Papas
3. Penny Lane, Beatles
4. There's a Kind of Hush, Herman's Hermits
5. Baby, I Need Your Lovin', Johnny Rivers

And then "Somethin' Stupid'' happened: Frank and Nancy Sinatra became the only father-daughter to have a No. 1 song.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A song we remember oh so well

It was the night they drove old Dixie down.

When dawn broke on this day in 1865 for the Confederate States of America, the capital of Richmond was in the hands of Union forces and, for all intents and purposes, the Civil War was over.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'' contains a few historical inaccuracies. Its reference to Richmond falling on May 10 might have been alluding to the capture of President Jefferson Davis more than a month later. But give Robbie Robertson credit: This is a powerful song that captures the spirit of the South and lends a sympathetic tone to a cause not always faithfully portrayed in American history books.

Add Levon Helm's rich, earth-sodden voice, and the song achieves mythical significance.

Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train
'Til Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it's a time I remember, oh so well

Robertson has always said the song sprung out of nowhere, but he remembers visits to Dixie where he heard the all-too-common refrain "the South's gonna rise again.'' And apparently he was touched by the feeling, calling it "a beautiful sadness.''

Like my father before me, I will work the land
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat

It was the night they drove old Dixie down, and all the people were singin'...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bond for glory

I looked up at the the TV screen last night and saw what appeared to be bad comedians in yellow G-suits slap-sticking their way through a fake spaceship. Jetsons remake?

Then I recognized a face. It was Bond. James Bond.

It was the ending to "Moonraker'', a movie I've somehow missed for three decades since its original release in 1979. I've never waited in line to watch a Bond premiere (prefering the escape offered by Ian Fleming's paperbacks), but I do enjoy catching at least moments of these flicks on the backside.

And it just so happened that a lovely blonde was on HER backside (Dr. Holly Goodhead, I would soon learn), in full-body embrace with our hero as they floated weightlessly through the space cabin.

As the video of their tryst flashed on the screen at Command Central, this dialog followed:

"It's 007!''
"My god, what's Bond doing?''
"I think he's attempting re-entry, sir!''

Wondering if I had just caught the best scene of the entire movie, I consulted Leonard Maltin's movie guide for his take. Lenny was not at all impressed with "Moonraker'', giving it two stars and this pan:

"James Bond no longer resembles Ian Fleming's creation; now he's a tired punster pursuing an intergalactic madman. Overblown comic-strip adventure is strictly for the bubble-gum set...''

Maltin might have at least mentioned that Shirley Bassey was back to sing the Bond theme song (following 'Goldfinger' and 'Diamonds Are Forever'). Hearing her voice again, as the credits rolled, gave me my money's worth. (Free!) And don't you think that Hal David's lyrics, with a different melody and arrangement, could've been a killer song for somebody?

Where are you? When will we meet?
Take my unfinished life and make it complete
Just like the moonraker knows
His dream will come true someday
I know that you are only a kiss away

I've seen your smile in a thousand dreams
Felt your touch and it always seems
You love me

You love me

I'm thinking: Tanya Tucker's comeback?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Light a candle for Emmylou

Happy Birthday, Red Dirt Girl.

For years I considered you country because you were born in Birmingham, wore cowboy boots and buckskin and loved to play those big Gibson jumbo guitars. And those first albums I bought, "Elite Hotel'' and "Blue Kentucky Girl'' whispered the truth, and I listened.

But you never could be put in a pen. It was never "country'' or "country-rock'' or "folk-rock'' or "alt-country'' because you never joined anybody's club and you walked across genres like you were walkin' across Texas and needed to get there by nightfall. (And who wouldn't struggle to get past Gram Parsons, we're not over him still.)

Some critics complained because you covered so many others' songs instead of writing more of your own music. But that's what a Great Interpreter does. And if they had taken the time to absorb themselves in "Red Dirt Girl'' they would never raise that question again.

Some fans couldn't understand why you haven't enjoyed the popularity of your good friends Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, but that's apples to oranges (and, well, grapefruit). Your earthy soprano voice -- a songbird! -- has been seeded in every corner of God's green earth and shows up in places wonderful and unexpected. When somebody asks "Who's that singing backup on that song'' there's a good chance it's you.

And you keep going -- 62 now -- like there's no tomorrow. And maybe there isn't, which is why we ought to be paying attention right now, today.

Your last chance Texaco
Your sweetheart of the rodeo
A Juliet to your Romeo
The border you cross into Mexico
I'll never understand why or how
Oh but baby it's too late now
Just ask the boy from Tupelo
He's the king and he oughta know

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fool's gold

I know what you're thinking: Only a fool would assemble a song list such as this. But please withhold judgment until you've had the opportunity to evaluate the selections yourself.

It may be April Fool's Day, but the songs assembled below -- representing every corner of the musical spectrum -- are positively fool-proof. Only the best bubbled to the top.

You don't kick out Petula Clark's "Prends Mon Coeur'' without careful consideration. You can't dismiss Van Halen and Deep Purple guitar rants without dutiful deliberation. Only with great pains can you disqualify Sergio Mendez & Brasil '66's "The Fool on the Hill'' -- a delightful cover that was a much bigger commercial success than Paul McCartney's original piano/flute arrangement. Tough choices, weighty decisions.

Everybody from Elvis to Peabo Bryson to Bob Dylan to Raul Malo -- even Josh Ritter -- has covered "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I'' but we're hanging with Hank Snow's original 1952 recording of the Bill Trader song. Call me a hillbilly; you need a good fiddle to pull off this song. And no song titles are duplicated on this list so Elvis, you're outa here!

But even Snow's righteous cowboy relic is overshadowed by the sheer power of Aretha Franklin, who secured the No. 1 spot with her 1967 stomper "Chain of Fools.'' The start of that song is like firing up a jet engine: "Chain chain chain...'' Get ready for lift-off.

Here then, the 10 songs most worthy of your attention on this day for foolin' around.

1. Chain of Fools, Aretha Franklin
2. (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I, Hank Snow
3. The Fool on the Hill, Beatles
4. Ship of Fools, The Doors
5. Fooled Around and Fell in Love, Elvin Bishop
6. Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread), Brook Benton
7. Fool to Cry, The Rolling Stones
8. What a Fool Believes, Doobie Brothers
9. Oh Me Oh My (I'm a Fool For You, Baby), Lulu
10. Fool Me Once, B.B. King

Honorable mention: "Everybody's Somebody's Fool'', Connie Francis
Foolish trivia: Duane Allman played guitar on the Lulu song.