Sunday, May 31, 2009

Couldn't wait 'til June

Happy, Happy, Happy: Today's impressive batch of birthday boys includes Clint Eastwood (1930), Johnny Paycheck (1938) and John Bonham (1948). Some people just can't wait for June.

And it's a little fuzzy, because I wasn't yet nine years old, but I do remember hearing a song on the radio that was No. 1 on the Billboard charts on this day in 1959.

A simple 12-bar blues song written in 1952 by hitmakers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller was originally recorded by Little Willie Littlefield as "K.C. Lovin' '' -- much to the songwriting duo's chagrin. Its original title was restored seven years later when Wilbert Harrison took it to the top of the charts.

I'm gonna be standing on the corner
Twelfth Street and Vine
I'm gonna be standing on the corner
Twelfth Street and Vine
With my Kansas City baby
And a bottle of Kansas City wine

That's right, going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come...

"Kansas City'' is the first song -- and most likely the only one -- to enter the chart at No. 100 and make it to the top. It would be replaced two weeks later by another song about an American city: Johnny Horton's "Battle of New Orleans.''

The Billboard Top 5 on this date in 1959:

1. Kansas City, Wilbert Harrison
2. Sorry, I Ran All the Way Home, Impalas
3. The Happy Organ, Dave "Baby'' Cortez
4. Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb), Edward Byrnes , with Connie Stevens
5. A Teenager in Love, Dion and the Belmonts

Clint, by the way, was celebrating his 29th birthday as Rowdy Yates in the first season of TV's "Rawhide.'' Bonham? The Led Zeppelin drummer-to-be turned 11, and had already worn out the snare drum he received for his 10th birthday. Paycheck, born Donald Eugene Lytle, was 21 and singing country harmonies under the handle Donny Young.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

This is the forest primeval

JIMINY SPRUCE ACRES -- With a song in my heart and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow whispering in my ear I returned this week to the family property just outside Whitehall, Wis.

It is a small tract of land, barely 4.5 acres, but it holds great natural beauty and the promise of tomorrow. It is bordered on the south by the meandering Trempealeau River, which holds catfish, northern pike and an occasional rogue German brown trout that could bend your rod in half.

It would have been too close to humanity for Thoreau -- the traffic of U.S. Highway 53 buzzes nearby -- but a heavy canopy of white pines, silver maples and boxelders effectively buffers the noise, making it possible to escape without intrusion to a forest floor alive with wildflowers, butterflies and signs everywhere of whitetail deer. We even saw a fox kit cross North River Road and duck into the lush underbrush.

This is the forest primeval
The murmuring pines and the hemlocks
Bearded in moss, and in garments green
Indistinct in the twilight
Stand like Druids of eld
With voices sad and prophetic

My father purchased this land more than 30 years ago, with plans to build a modest home just above the river floodplain. It never got done, but we are not ready to abandon his dream. On Friday we took a wooden bench he built years ago and placed it on the sandy bank above the Trempealeau, a great perch from which to watch the river flow, read a good book and contemplate our small places in the universe.

It is a start, and somewhere I'm sure Dad is smiling.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Behold a pale genius

I couldn't have been paying attention when Edgar Winter burst on the scene back in the early Seventies. How anyone could have missed that bizarre show is perhaps more amazing than the act itself.

(There was that long stretch locked in a room with Koss headphones ingesting Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon'', but still...)

It wasn't until a friend turned me on to an old British TV program that I discovered just how incredible EWG was. You may already have watched the clip below, which has had more than 1 million views since it was posted on YouTube:

It was taken from the DVD "The Old Grey Whistle Test, Vol. 1'', a stunning collection of live performances from the trail-blazing BBC show. Other highlights on Vol. 1 include The Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer'', Alice Cooper's "Under My Wheels'', Little Feat's "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor'' and a sweet performance by Curtis Mayfield doing "We Gotta Have Peace.''

The Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein'' blows the doors off everything else. It's cosmic. I mention it now because on this day in 1973 it was the No. 1 song in America. The Billboard Top 5:

1. Frankenstein, Edgar Winter Group
2. My Love, Paul McCartney & Wings
3. Daniel, Elton John
4. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, Dawn
5. You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Stevie Wonder

To think that a long-haired Texas albino thrashing a synthesizer, drum kit and saxophone could have a No. 1 song against the likes of a former Beatle and another British darling, well, that's just plain righteous.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The crossroads of country, rock and soul

This was your Billboard Top 5 on this day in 1966:

1. When a Man Loves a Woman, Percy Sledge
2. A Groovy Kind of Love, The Mindbenders
3. Monday, Monday, The Mamas and the Papas
4. Paint It Black, The Rolling Stones
5. Rainy Day Women #12 & #35, Bob Dylan

Sledge's only Top 10 hit was recorded at the legendary Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., at "the crossroads of country, rock and soul.'' There is nothing quite like the sound generated in those studios by its technicians and house musicians.

Muscle Shoals was a hit launching pad for soul singers like Etta James, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin -- who recorded her first hit, "I Never Loved a Man Like I Loved You'', there. And the rest, representing every music genre, followed. Everybody from Bob Seger and Paul Simon to the Osmonds and Bob Dylan bottled lightning at Muscle Shoals.

As the story goes, a session player by the name of Duane Allman taught Wilson Pickett some guitar phrasings to "Hey Jude'' during a lunch break at the studios. Not surprisingly, Allman's lead guitar wound up being used on Pickett's recording. When executives at Atlantic Records asked Pickett who was playing guitar, he reportedly replied: "Some hippie cat who's been living in our parking lot.''

The Allman Brothers Band (nee: Allman Joys, Hourglass) soon followed.

"When a Man Loves a Woman'' is a phenomenal recording that captures the incomparable Muscle Shoals sound. If you're looking for another example, go back and listen to "I'll Take You There'' by The Staples Singers -- another No. 1 for Muscle Shoals in 1972.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Along came the Crickets

If you believe Don McLean, then this is was the day the music was born.

By 1957, Elvis had already gyrated himself into the American mainsteam and was enjoying his second No. 1 Billboard song "All Shook Up.'' That single, also No. 1 in Britain, was followed on the charts the Diamonds' "Little Darlin' '' and Buddy Knox's "Party Doll.''

The future of rock 'n' roll was already secure -- and it was about to get another electrifying jolt. On this day in '57, the Bruswick label released a 45 RPM as catalog #55009. It was a song that had been recorded a year earlier for Decca but was never released, and it would catapult Buddy Holly and the Crickets to stardom.

Nearly four months later, on September 23, "That'll Be the Day'' topped the American charts and the Crickets -- who had considered Grasshoppers and Beetles for their insect nickname -- and Holly were household names.

It would be the first song John Lennon learned to play on a guitar, and it would influence dozens and dozens of other major artists, from Bob Dylan and John Denver to Elton John and Elvis Costello.

Barely 17 months after the song hit No. 1, as McLean would sadly remind us with "American Pie," the music died when Holly's chartered plane crashed into Albert Juhl's frozen cornfield near Ames, Iowa.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Soaking it all in

WHITEHALL, WIS. -- I'm stuck in a time warp. The radio is playing the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville'', the TV is blasting "Jeopardy'' and Mom is home preparing a hotdish for lunch. Where did the last 40 years go?

It's a spring soaker outside, the kind of rainy day that is welcomed this time of year. The robins are hopping about snagging worms while aerial marauders strike the feeders outside my sister's home. (When was the last time you saw a rose-breasted grosbeak? Amazing.) No chance of getting in nine holes today, and that's probably a good thing.

I got blistered by my playing companions yesterday: Zach, my old buddy Doc and his wife, Patti, all took me to the cleaners. It took a triple mulligan on the final hole -- a 172-yard downhill tester with more menacing oak trees than you can count -- to secure my second par of the round. The scores really don't count, do they?

Anyway, 19th hole at Whitehall C.C. was much kinder. It may have hindered my ability to nail this morning's final Jeopardy question, but it did help me forget that dreadful round of golf.

The buzz around town (well, aside from Jon and Kate's well-publicized marital crisis) is all about Norse sprinter Chelsey Simon's chances of defending her state titles in the 100 and 200. Apparently she has a nemesis from Indepedence/Gilmanton who'll test her in today's regional meet. I wonder when girls track became the cat's meow...

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Ode to Whitehall C.C.

WHITEHALL, WIS. -- I was never a great golfer. Forget about that MVP award at Whitehall High School. I was the only senior on the team. They had to give it to me, and frankly, it must have almost killed the coach.

But I still have fun trying. And I was back yesterday at Whitehall Country Club, where it all began for me as a kid with a cross-handed grip who probably should have taken up the game with left-handed clubs. I was cursed from the start.

Back then the greens were cinder instead of grass, and the caddies would have to "sweep'' them with oil tarps after the golfers putted out. We'd make 25 cents for toting a bag around nine holes and managing those blasted sand greens, and somehow feel rich for the experience.

Today Whitehall C.C. is lovely and picturesque 3,101-yard par 35 that will often bite you at the very start: It still has one of the most challenging opening holes in west central Wisconsin's Coulee Region. The 436-yard par 4 features a narrow fairway framed by majestic oaks and bordered on the right by the meandering Trempealeau River. The plateaued green doesn't come into view until AFTER you have hit your second shot. It's so easy to get into trouble on this hole that you are rarely disappointed to walk away with a bogey.

In fact, as Zach and I were making plans to play yesterday my nephew Carter predicated: "You'll both start out with sixes or higher.''

That's usually a given. But I should have placed a bet with Carter, because I somehow managed a bogey 5 after two-putting from 12 feet. Zach did settle for a double-bogey 6 and, with Jess driving the cart and managing the beer concessions, we were off to the races.

There is no real trouble to be encountered the rest of the way, unless you hit a tree (I did off the tee box on No. 5; it never came down) or slice your drive on No. 6 out of bounds over the old Green Bay & Western railroad tracks. Zach scored a rare birdie on No. 6, at a lengthy 516 yards the only par 5 on the course.

Jess replenished our cooler after Zach's heroic bird and we polished off the last three holes on a giddy high. A formation of honking geese glided overhead just before sunset kissed the old course goodnight.

Score: Zach 42, Dad 45.

We'll be back this afternoon to settle the score.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

We're fine, fine for now

The drive is always longer after a loss, and we had the bitter taste of defeat in our mouths as we headed east on I-94. (Or was that the Metrodome bratwurst?) Twins over Brewers. I never liked the sound of that.

It was pitch dark. Jess was in the cramped back seat of the pickup, wedged between a travel bag and a guitar. Now who's gonna complain about that? Zach was behind the wheel, steering us toward the old homeland of Whitehall, Wis. I was riding shotgun, and I knew full well my responsibility.

Zach turned on the overhead light and flipped me a bulging CD case. Without saying anything he was saying: Find something to keep us going.

It's an awesome responsibility. I quickly flipped through the case, recognizing some CDs that gave me great comfort. Steve Earle. Now that would be a good choice. But too predictable -- way too easy to grab "I Feel Alright'' and rock on down the highway. Creedence? Guaranteed to get you down the road, but it didn't seem quite right. Motley Crue? Where did that come from?

Then I spotted the blue CD label and knew I had it. It's not always banger music that keeps you going at night. Sometimes -- especially on a black night over a long haul -- you have to reach for harmonies that weave together and whisper in your tired ears. And delicate chord voicings that have you playing along in the fretted patchwork of your weary mind.

Whiskeytown's "Strangers Almanac'' is that kind of album. I used to love Ryan Adams before he became Ryan Adams. Know what I'm saying? I miss the fiddle of Caitlin Cary and her sweet backup vocals that lent support -- even propped up at times -- Adams' strained musings.

"Inn Town'' is one of those great lid-lifting songs. The opening guitar riff draws you in, and then the song just plain takes over.

Parking lot, movie screen I can't feel anything
Cigarette, beat up TV I can't feel anything
Now that I, I am in town
I feel fine, fine for now

We were gonna make it to the old Hub. As we clipped along Highway 53 between Osseo and Pigeon Falls I thought about my high school class reunion coming up later this summer, and I wondered about some old pals I haven't seen in, what, 40 years? And I strained to hear the lines that always bring me back here, even when I'm 1,500 miles away:

Hang around with the people that I used to be
Hang around on a corner waiting to go, have a seat

I might have to come back for the big Four-Oh.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yowser, this will be some list

The man across the table, who happens to be my lawyer, posed an intriguing question. We were in the middle of a tense, crucial, make-me-or-break-me legal discussion and his query threw me for a loop. In fact, it's nearly three days later and I'm still ruminatin' on it.

What artist would you pay right now to go see? Put your money down, file into a venue and go see ... whom?

Maybe you can snap off a quick list without thinking about it. Not me. No sir, this is SERIOUS! This has all the makings of a classic Top 10 list, and I don't want to blow it.

In fact, what would be better than compiling a list of concerts that you actually PLANNED to attend?

Now that would be a killer list. So it's time to begin scouring the summer concert tour list, visiting artists' websites and checking favorite venues to investigate all the delicious possibilities.

I will say this. My lawyer offered a few names. I wasn't aware of his musical taste and sensibilities until he quietly and thoughtfully mentioned John Hammond. And Leonard Cohen. Interesting. Very interesting ...

Feed me some suggestions. And stay tuned for the SSSULTRY (Six String Sanctuary Ultimate Live Tour Rockin' Yowser!) List.

Did you know that the Urban Dictionary defines ''yowser'' as "holy crap''? Now you know what I'm talkin' about...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Time to do some motivatin'

Chuck Berry, man. Give him a shout.

He went into the recording studio at Chess Records on this day in 1955 and came out with this:

Maybellene, why can't you be true?
Oh Maybellene, why can't you be true?
You've started back doing the things you used to do

"Maybellene'' was a reworked demo that began as "Ida Red'' and, in the hands of the duck-walking, guitar-scatting Berry, became a career-launching hit. It topped Billboard's R&B charts and rose to No. 5 on the rock list (making Berry the first African-American artist to crack the Top 10 in that category).

As Rolling Stone has succinctly noted, "Roll and Roll starts here.''

America was not entirely ready for the likes of Berry in 1955, and the influence of a powerful disc jockey like Allen Freed (who somehow shared the song-writing credit) cannot be understated. But Berry, well, he certainly didn't need much of a push.

As I was motivatin' over the hill
I saw Maybellene in a Coup de Ville.
A Cadillac a-rollin' on the open road
Nothin' will outrun my V8 Ford.
The Cadillac doin' 'bout ninety-five
She's bumper to bumber rollin' side by side

Motivatin' indeed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Romancing the stone

Like many newspaper vagabonds, I never really chose I city in which to take up residence. I simply moved from one gig to another when a career opportunity presented itself.

I never chose Ocala, Fla. The Star-Banner chose me. St. Petersburg was really not my kind of town, but the Evening Independent was the coolest afternoon paper on the planet. Atlanta was too big for my country britches, but the Journal was a bustling metropolitan daily that "covered Dixie like the dew.''

It was all about my love affair with newspapers. The cities only got in my way.

That's why I can say with some degree of certainty that I will never live in Tucson, Ariz. That's because the city no longer has a newspaper with which to fall in love. The Tucson Citizen, after 138 years of publishing, has stopped its presses.

It's not getting the attention of swine flu, but the death of daily newspapers is a frightening epidemic all its own. There are no vaccinations. And this will only sound sick if you don't know me, but I keep thinking of the country song "I've Been Everywhere'' and how it won't be long before you can plug in the names of deceased newspapers and have yourself a classic.

I'm not wishing this fate on any of the places mentioned below, but to give you the idea:

I've been to Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Ombabika
Schefferville, Jacksonville, Waterville, Costa Rica,
Pittsfield, Springfield, Bakersfield, Shreveport
Hackensack, Cadillac, Fond du Lac, Davenport
Idaho, Jellico, Argentina, Diamantina
Pasadena, Catalina ...

See what I mean-a?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sing a little sunshine song

Roger Miller wrote some kooky songs.

The titles give him away. "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd,'' "Dang Me'', "Do Wacka Do'' and "My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died'' were as nonsensical as they sounded. But the really funny thing is, we learned the lyrics and sang along because this was music that made you smile. And, all corniness aside, they were pretty good songs.

There was method in the madness. There were lessons buried in the lyrics.

Of course you can't roller skate in the buffalo herd. But, guess what? You can be happy if you've a mind to.

All you've got to do is put you mind to it. Knuckle down, buckle down - do it, do it, do it.

Miller's most famous song -- and his only No. 1 single -- "King of the Road'' was certified gold on this date in 1965. It matches up with just about anything anybody was writing and recording at the time and it became, literally, the gold standard for songwriters.

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes

Two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road

Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination Bangor, Maine
Old worn out suits and shoes
I don't pay no union dues

I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road

Hard to believe Miller has been been gone from our good earth for going on 27 years. He died of cancer in 1992 at age 55. But his music, you couldn't get it out of your head if you tried. Not that you'd want to.

I'm sitting here listening to the rain -- the second straight day of soaking rain after months of dry weather -- and I don't think I'm giving Roger Miller too much credit when I say there's sunshine somewhere in those raindrops.

I just wish I had your good luck charm, and you had a do-wacka-do.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Countdown to a legacy

My pocket book is empty
And my heart is filled with pain
A thousand miles away from home
Just waiting for a train

That Jimmie Rodgers could bring it, couldn't he?

He's called the father of country music, but I don't know about that. They like to shower titles on the great ones, and he was a great one, for sure. Songs like "Waiting For a Train'' were written by someone who knew the life working the rails and could sing simple songs about the hardships and difficulties of making ends meet in the Depression. And he could yodel the lonesomest blue yodel you will ever hear.

When you add it all up it's really a mixture of folk and country tinged in the blues. Which would make it "Americana'' before the phrase was coined. The inscription on a statue honoring him in Meridian, Miss., tells it better than me:

His is the music of America. He sang the songs of the people he loved, of a young nation growing strong. His was an America of glistening rails, thundering boxcars, and rain-swept night, of lonesome prairies, great mountains and a high blue sky. He sang of the bayous and the cornfields, the wheated plains, of the little towns, the cities, and of the winding rivers of America.

Fighting a losing battle with tuberculosis, Rodgers went into the recording studio on this day in 1933. Talk about meeting a deadline for your legacy. He recorded a dozen songs over the next few days when he was able to summon the strength, including "Mississippi Delta Blues'', "I'm Free (From the Chain Gang Now)'' and his final recording, "Years Ago.''

He died on May 26 at age 35.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

How high can an F-bomb fly?

I just noticed Wade Tatangelo's "5 Heatwave acts not to miss'' in tbt, the freebie tab published by the St. Pete Times.

I am a fan of Wade's, in fact I hired him as music critic at the Bradenton Herald a few years ago. He had been freelancing around the Tampa Bay area and was looking for a regular gig (steady paycheck with benefits -- always a good thing).

Anyway, it proved to be a good move. Wade's a fine writer, and it certainly didn't hurt that we have similar musical sensibilities. He wrote about subjects that I was interested in. The only issue, really ever, with Wade was how he would straddle and occasionally cross the line of good taste. In other words, enter the Forbidden Land of Bad Taste.

I always respected Wade's spirited challenges, but in end it was my responsibility to keep F-bombs and other objectionable language out of the paper. So we'd go at in my office, lobbing back and forth a few of the very same expletives that were rarely, if ever, going to appear in our community paper.

Wade wound up leaving, on perfectly good terms, to write music for the alternative weekly Creative Loafing -- a better fit for him. And he did a good job for them, too, until last fall when he became a budget casualty.

I would always pick up the Loaf to see how he was doing. That meant checking to see how high in a story he might get an F-bomb. And I am still astonished to report that he was once able to make it the third word of a story.

Anyway, I'm happy to see him writing a Barfly column for tbt. And this week's bonus entry was his Heatwave Top 5, which I am now dutybound to share:

1. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
2. Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express
3. BeauSoleil
4. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
5. David Dondero

It is also my responsibility to report there were no F-bombs in his story.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How hot does it get here?

Six stages.

Thirty-two bands.

Hot weather, cold beer and loose women. (Or so they tell me.)

It's the music event of the year in Tampa Bay. Hot damn.

The 28th annual Tropical Heatwave in Ybor City will be rocking Saturday with an eclectic lineup that includes the Beauvilles, Chuck Prophet, Trombone Shorty, Blair Carman & the Bellvue Boys and two of my favorite female singers: Eilen Jewell and Sarah Borges.

That's Borges, left, rocking out with the Broken Singles. Their new release "The Stars are Out'' (Sugar Hill) is half originals and half covers, but it's definitely not half-ass. Especially divine is her spin on the Smokey Robinson classic "Being With You.''

She's my pick to click at the Wave. Now how easy was that?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Still workin' on his masterpiece

David Byrne turns 57 today, and I'm wondering: What will he wear?

I was introduced to the musical genius of Byrne years ago when a friend played for me -- audio turned up to the max -- the splendid Talking Heads' concert movie "Stop Making Sense.'' I never get tired of watching/hearing that video. Along with The Band's "The Last Waltz'' it represents the very best of the genre.

Sorry to report I haven't done a good job of keeping up with Byrne's ambitious solo projects in recent years. Even serious fans might have trouble with that. Apparently the Indy music website has mentioned that Byrne would collaborate with anyone for a bag of Doritos -- to which the artist responded:

"I think I sometimes need a little more incentive than that -- a beer to go with the Doritos, perhaps.''

No matter what Byrne is up to, it's probably worth checking out. Here's a video from a 2008 concert at Union Chapel in London. The lyrics to the song "The Great Intoxication'' follow:

Who Disco?
Who Techno?
Who Hip-Hop?
Who Be Bop?
Who's been playing records in his bedroom?

Who rocks out?
Who's spaced out?
Who brings you?
Who sings you?
Who's still workin' on his masterpiece?

The great intoxication
The mental generation
Sound effects & laughter
Stupid ever after
Hopin' it was cranked up
Loud enough for you to hear

He's drunk and he's insistent
Shy but he's persistent
Boisterous & jumpy
Disorganized & funky

Every day he wonders
What the hell she sees in him?

Ah, but who saves you?
Who craves you?
Who Heartbreaks?
Who love makes?
Look into the eyeball of your boyfriend

Who drives you?
Capsized you?
Who shakes you?
Who wakes you?
Who's still workin' on his masterpiece

Byrne's U.S. summer tour includes a stop at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn. I'll buy the beer and Doritos if you want to join me...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

They tried to sneak by us now didn't they?

I just read Entertainment Weekly's 100 Best Movie Soundtracks and I have to ask: Do the Beatles deserve to be at the top of every list?

Number One on EW's list is "Hard Day's Night'' -- which we're told is "the soundtrack that turned a nation into a glee club.'' Huh?


The tough part about ranking soundtracks is you have the serious contenders taken from musicals that really deserve to be in a category by themselves. Stellar soundtracks from films like "The Sound of Music'' (which was No. 2 on this list), "West Side Story'' (No. 4) and "Oklahoma!'' (No. 11). Call me a munchkin, but my favorite among the musical soundtracks would probably be "The Wizard of Oz.''

I don't have time today to assemble a personal Top 100 (who does?) but feel it's necessary to point out a glaring omission by the EW braintrust. Namely, the kick-ass, ear-carving soundtrack from "Reservoir Dogs.'' There's just no way this can't make a Top 100 list. Here's the track list:

Little Green Bag, George Baker Selection
Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Suede
I Gotcha, Joe Tex
Magic Carpet Ride, Bedlam
Fool For Love, Sandy Rogers
Stuck in the Middle With You, Stealers Wheel
Harvest Moon, Bedlam
Coconut, Harry Nilsson

Add the hilarious deadpan monotone of Steven Wright, who introduces the music as K-Billy's Supersongs of the 70s, splice in some memorable dialogue from the movie (like Harvey Keitel's "I'm hungry -- let's get a taco'') and you have all the elements for the best eight-song, 30-minute soundtrack ever assembled. I'm gonna slip it in my player right now.

Good enough to make the PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) list? As only Joe Tex could put it: Uh-huh, huh...

Monday, May 11, 2009

He used to be quite the Animal

I just got done watching a video of The Animals performing "I'm Crying'' from the old Hullabaloo TV show. (It's hard to get past the hilarity of the dancers, or the band's introduction by Sammy Davis Jr. But it's worth it.)

You really have to hand it to Eric Burdon. That boy had a set of steel pipes (and a punk face to match). Not that it means anything, but Rolling Stone magazine in 2008 rated him No. 57 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

And apparently he's still going strong at 68. Happy birthday, bloke. You wonder how that voice -- gritty when we first heard it back during the British Invasion -- has held up this long. Of all the pond-jumping groups of that great era, The Animals brought the best fusion of blues and rock to the stage. It was all about Burdon's incredible voice, but the funky keyboards and guitar work completed the sound.

Finding the heart and edge in songs like "House of the Rising Sun'', "Bring It On Home To Me'', "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'' and "CC Rider'', the Animals provided an R&B alternative to what was being heard on the commercial airwaves.

The Animals didn't last long enough, and Burdon would move on to San Francisco where he would be, to steal a word from a Chambers Brothers song, "psychedelicized.'' Few white singers could pull off a stint in the funk group War, but that was Burdon's voice for you. The results included "Spill the Wine'' and "Tobacco Road.''

Once you've spent time in San Francisco you can either leave your heart there, like Tony Bennett, or just stick around. Like Burdon sang in "San Franciscan Nights'':

I wasn't born there, perhaps I'll die there
There's no place left to go
San Franciscan...

I notice he has a show scheduled for the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Calif. on June 13. If you're in the neighborhood you may want to check out the old Animal.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Day bonus in our family

It must have been a blessed morning today as Mom headed off to Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Whitehall to hear an inspiring message from Pastor Tom.

May in Wisconsin can be a glorious time for folks who have endured another long, harsh winter. They are finally out of the woods again, so to speak, and the trees and flowers and lawns are speaking to them with promises that couldn't have been whispered only weeks ago.

And this bonus: Just a few days ago Mom became a great grandmother for the seventh time, as my niece Missy and her husband, Jamie, welcomed their first son into the world after two girls. That brings to 22 the family lineage begun by Gene and Mavis Smith back in 1947. Good work, Mom and Dad!

I found this picture of Mom taken around Christmas time last year. She was in the kitchen overseeing the lefse making by my sister Sue and myself. Hard as we try, there is no denying the fact that Mom is the master of this Norwegian delicacy, and we children are mere subjects who bow to her expertise. It's just a matter of time before she grabs the special grooved rolling pin to get the dough just right, or commandiers the wooden turner to expertly roll the lefse over on the grill -- and save the day.

No lefse today, though. With the Brewers looking for a home sweep against the hated Cubs at Miller Park, I'd vote for brats on the grill and potato salad. It's Mom's Day, though, and her call. Just keep her out of the kitchen, OK?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

It's Conway or the highway

There was a time when Conway Twitty was the cat's ass. You can look it up.

Why I thought of him this morning I can't explain. But don't get the wrong idea. Unlike the women who used to awaken between their bedsheets with the Twitty twitters, I never understood the sex appeal. It must have had something to do with the big head of hair and the material he was working with, like "You've Never Been This Far Before'' -- which believe it or not was close to being risque back in 1973 when it topped the charts. Or "I'd Love to Lay You Down'', another No. 1 in 1980.

It's amazing to note that in the Seventies and Eighties there was not a more successful country artist than C.T. He had 75 Top 10 singles, an incredible 40 of which made it to No. 1. I reckon that's why there's a Twitty City today in Hendersonville, Tenn.

I just liked the way Conway sang 'em. One of my favorites is "(Lying Here With) Linda on My Mind'', and it has nothing to do with a girl back in high school with that name. Nope, it was just the quintessential country song about women and longing and guilt and passion.

Now I'm lying here with Linda on my mind
And next to me my soon to be
The one I left behind
And lord it's killing me to see her crying
She knows I'm lying here beside her
With Linda on my mind

They don't sing 'em like that any more. They don't even write 'em.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Should artists get paid for airplay?

That headline query is not as easy to answer as I would have thought. And it's all because a songwriter acquaintance shared information with me on the Performance Rights Act now being debated in Congress.

Below is the email message he forwarded to me from John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange and a longtime music industry insider. It's definitely worth reading, and particularly the article at referenced in the text. Yes, this is a one-sided argument, but it is a side that deserves to be heard.

Isn't it encouraging to see Congress taking up matters beyond Major League Baseball's steroid scandal? Here's the email:

Subject: URGENT ALERT: Support the Performace Rights Act!

Your immediate attention and action is requested.

Unlike most of the countries around the world, U.S. AM and FM radio broadcasters do not have to pay you when they use your music to make billions of dollars in advertising. In addition to the loss here in America, foreign societies keep the U.S. performer share because we don't have the same rights! You lose an estimated $100 Million per year in foreign royalties.

It is time for a change! A new bill, the Performance Rights Act, was recently introduced in Congress that aims to correct this inequity which has existed in U.S. law for over 80 years. Fixing this loophole will also help American recording artists receive their long overdue foreign money as well as royalties here at home. In the past months, Billy Corgan, Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), Herbie Hancock, Los Tigres del Norte, Sheryl Crow, Mary Wilson (Supremes), Judy Collins, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Tony Bennett, and many others have come to Washington to talk to legislators to try and change this unfairness. Add your voice to the 200 Founding Artists of musicFIRST (Fairness In Radio Starting Today), to the more than 8,000 foreign performers who have signed petitions and written letters in support of this campaign (McCartney, Ray Davies and Bono just to name a few).

It is really important that this coming Monday or Tuesday, May 11th or 12th that you pick up the phone and call your Representatives. Light up the switchboards in Washington and let them know it is important to support working musicians, featured and background alike, to support the Performance Rights Act.

We have provided step-by-step instructions, including direct phone numbers into your Members' offices and talking points. They can be found on the musicFIRST website (

Step 1: On May 11 or May 12 go to
Step 2: Click on the TAKE ACTION button located on the homepage.
Step 3: Enter your zip code in the box labeled CALL NOW
Step 4: Follow the prompts to locate your Members of Congress
Step 5: The program will provide the appropriate phone number, talking points, and a place for you to leave feedback. It will walk you through calling each of your Members of Congress and your Senator.

Pass on the message to friends, coworkers, and family so that we can make this Call for Action Day even bigger than the last one!!

In addition- there was a great article posted on April 29 that is definitely worth reading:

Please contact Alissa Van Deventer of the musicFIRST Coalition at with any questions.

John L. Simson
Executive Director

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reconsidering Lutefisk Puke

I've mentioned, erroneously it turns out, that my son Zach plays in the band Crimson Red Guitar. Turns out it is Crimson Red Radio. Now that I've got that straightened out they can go on to stardom. Or change it to Lutefisk Puke, as one commenter suggested.

I have a few buddies and former colleagues who are also in bands. Tom plays drums in the Alternators Blues Band, Chuck fronts the Bourbon Dynasty, and my old pal George was a guitarist in the Quarrymen. I'm kidding!

The Beatles, of course, started out as the Quarrymen (and I'm not convinced the change was much of an improvement. Creedence Clearwater Revival, on the other hand, was a definite upgrade from the Golliwogs).

I'm back wondering if a name can make or break a band, for no other reason than I'm staring at my 2008 Bradenton Battle of the Bands T-shirt (proudly sponsored by And I've come to the conclusion that most of the bands, no matter how good they are now or might become, will be battling even longer than ordinary odds unless they change their monikers. I give you, alphabetically:

AMI Dub Squad
Bad Sara
Dakota Rose Band
Fighting for Shotgun
The Frayed Knot Band
The Human Condition
Invisible Image
John Q
The Martin-Westrick Combo
Meeting Aaron
My Brother's Scars
The Once & Future Kings
The Prospect
Rode Hard Band
Seth White Worship
Seven Years Past
The Turncoat
The Volt
Wikked Jester

OK, maybe there a couple of keepers. But I'd like to think I could come out of the bathroom in the morning with a dozen names that would put all of those to shame. I was even thinking this might turn into a lucrative business, but I just checked and the domain has already been taken.

It is not easy being an out-of-work newspaper headline writer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's crazier than Cinco de Mayo?

We had left the Twin Cities and crossed into western Wisconsin for the annual UFO festival, so you can imagine our mindsets. We were locked and loaded, so to speak, for aliens.

We were prepared to meet creatures from some other planet, or at least gaze at a shiny spacecraft streaking through the sky. A UFO landing strip had been built years ago in Elmwood, an alien-friendly community. But it was 104 degrees outside (yes it can get blazing hot in Wisconsin), so it wasn't long before we left the bustling sidewalk festivities and ducked into a saloon.

Amazingly enough, it was over bottles of Leinenkugel's Red that we encountered the most bizarre creatures of our trip (well, not counting ourselves.) They looked like humans, they dressed like humans and they drank like humans. But these could not have been humans. Not even Packers fans in season behave like this. Only years later, after spirit-infused discussions and a careful review of the evidence, our group determined that these strange creatures were actually ALFs (Alien Licking Forms). I'm sorry, I cannot divulge more.

But after a few drinks in that crowded and sweaty tavern not even ALFs could hold our attention. We headed back outside into the scorching heat, kicked a silver spacecraft for the shiny reflection it was throwing in our eyes (it was obviously a fake), and bought a few priceless UFO souvenirs.

By now we were hungry hombres, and that could only mean one thing: Make the winding drive down the backroads to Arkansaw and the Easy Creek Bistro. I've heard this quaint restaurant is no longer in business, and I sincerely regret if we were in any way responsible for its eventual demise. I don't remember that much about Easy Creek, other than feeling hopelessly out of place among the romantic couples and vacationing families who were enjoying a pleasant Saturday evening before our arrival.

We managed to get out of there before the local authorities arrived, sometime after singing "Una Mas Cerveza'' for the third time at the top of our lungs. I really think everything would have been OK if the band hadn't launched into that song. Funny though, the little bits and pieces I remember include images of patrons clapping heartily and encouraging us. Maybe we weren't all that bad. Naw...

We drove back to Elmwood under a pitch-black sky, spotted the piercing lights of a UFO hovering over a farmer's field (by then who cared?) and stumbled into a roadside motel to crash for the night.

All I'm saying is don't invite us out on Cinco de Mayo -- or any other other-worldly celebration -- unless you plan to do some singing with us.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming...

As protest songs go, it would be difficult to make a more powerful statement than Neil Young's "Ohio'' -- written in the aftermath of the Kent State University shootings. The song captured the anger, sorrow and fear of an America that was torn by the Vietnam War. The first five words are as chilling today as they were back in 1970. David Crosby reportedly came out of the recording session sobbing. It would be five more years before American troops completely withdrew from the country and Saigon was overtaken by North Vietnamese troops.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio

-- "Ohio'' lyrics by Neil Young
-- Photo by John Filo

Sunday, May 3, 2009

No bull, this would be some band

I'm not really into astrology. Or maybe it's just that I'm a Gemini and I'm hot and cold about it.

But a music fan can't help but wonder what cosmic forces seem to collide on this day. You could assemble a fabulous and eclectic band of singers and performers who were birthed on May 3.

Any star-gazing fool knows we're under the sign of Taurus (April 20-May 20). And that may provide a hint of the mysterious powers at work. According to (what, you think I'm making this up?) "Taurus rules the throat, giving a powerful, often beautiful voice. The influence of Venus opens up a world of musical talent and appreciation, so Taureans are good singers and musicians, or at least, love music and can be a force on the business side of music.''

I'm not aware of a celestial boring tool that can zero in on May 3. But we know it falls roughly in the middle of the Bull's reign. So may I introduce the band?

On rhythm guitar and vocals, social activist Pete Seeger (1919)
On platform heels and vocals, godfather of soul James Brown (1933-2006)
On guitar and vocals, truck driving sonofagun Dave Dudley (1928-03)
On very high vocals, Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli (1934)

Filling out the band are drummer Cactus Moser of Highway 101 (1957), bass player Bruce Hall of REO Speedwagon (1953) and female vocalist Mary Hopkin (1950).

Silly, you say. We shouldn't mess with the stars. But, honestly, what would you have paid to see James Brown perform "Six Days on the Road''?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Still wondering about Del

Why did Del Shannon kill himself?

No one knows, but a lot of people still shake their heads and wonder. All we know is that in early 1990 -- 29 years after scoring his only No. 1 song -- he appeared to be still going strong as a performer and producer. And then he shot himself in the head. He was 55.

To say Shannon never matched the success of "Runaway'' -- one of the greatest songs of its era -- diminishes his career accomplishments and ignores the impact he had on the music scene and the artists who followed him.

He was a successful songwriter whose early hits included "Hats Off to Larry'', "Little Town Flirt'', "Stranger in Town'' and "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun)'', and I'm sure he played them all when a buddy and I went to see him at the Medina Ballroom in 1987. It was a fabulous night of drinking, dancing and singing wickedly bad falsetto.

That was a Del Shannon concert for you. His music made you behave like a fricking go-go girl. And the beer, at some point, made you think you could sing three octaves above your range.

Tom Petty captured the feeling in the song "Runnin' Down a Dream'' from his 1988 Full Moon Fever album:

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin'
The trees went by, me and Del were singin'
Little 'Runaway', I was flyin'

Shannon had been running down a dream since his childhood in Michigan, where he grew up as Charles Westover, learned to play the kazoo and then tackled the guitar with a mission. Just out of school he was selling carpet by day and playing by night with Charley Johnson and the Big Little Show Band.

When the words and music to "Runaway'' suddenly came to him, Shannon reportedly said: "If this record isn't a hit, I'm going to go into the carpet business.'' That wouldn't be the case. "Runaway'' was selling 80,000 copies a day at this time in 1961, propelling Shannon to stardom on the tiny Big Top label.

Watching a video of him perform with David Letterman's band in 1986 -- right around the time my buddy and I saw him in the Twin Cities -- you expect he'd be playing "Runaway'' to eternity:

There is also video of Shannon's final concert on March 3, 1990, in Fargo, N.D. -- seven days before he committed suicide -- and you get the same impression. Reportedly he was preparing to join Petty and buddy Jeff Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys, as a replacement for Roy Orbison.

He seemed like a guy who had run down his dream and was living it. But you never know. And now all we can do is wonder. In the case of Del Shannon, wah-wah-wah-wah wonder.