Monday, August 31, 2009

Pssst: Those bodacious BoDeans

Music was going so many different directions in the erratic Eighties that it was difficult to find something concrete -- an album with staying power from a group that might be around long enough to remember.

How refreshing and cool that a band from my home state swooped in to make an indelible mark. The BoDeans' 1986 debut album "Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams'' may have been the highwater mark for music of this decade. And listening back confirms one thing: the band from Waukesha, Wis., was not going to, like the title of one of its signature songs, "Fadeaway'' quickly into the night.

I was working at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune at the time with a clique of music fans whose tastes ran from punk to early alternative. Among the groups they were introducing me to were smoking Twin Cities staples like Husker Du, the Replacements and Soul Asylum.

I remember being seduced by "L&H&S&D'' on the first listen and wondering what my new homeboy music mates would think of it. Too pop-ish for them, I was sure. But the vocal harmonies of Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann were extraordinary, the guitar work was biting, and the sound -- produced by T-Bone Burnett -- was as crisp and exhilarating as the Midwestern fall air we were breathing.

A non-homeboy buddy was hosting a party one night and in the middle of the mayhem we slipped "L&H&S&D'' into the music rotation. It stopped everybody -- even the punk snobs -- in their tracks. They loved the BoDeans, and it turned out they weren't the only ones. Rolling Stone annointed them the Best New American Band.

"L&H&S&D'' is one of those rare albums that you need to keep nearby, because when you need to hear it again -- and you always will -- you don't want to waste any time looking for it. It's a lock to join the growing stable of Personal Six String Sanctuary Touts (PSSST).

Earlier this year Rhino produced a Collector's Editon of "L&H&S&D'' that includes a DVD of a 1985 BoDeans concert at First Avenue in Minneapolis. The video makes it a must-have as well.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Last voyage of the Good Ship Dr. J

What songs would you have picked to close out a memorable 20-plus year run as host of WMNF's Sixties Show?

After a short clip of Quicksilver Messenger Service's "Happy Trails'', the beloved Dr. J played Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man'', calling it his favorite song of the decade. To amplify the point he added this quote from Rodney Crowell:

"Back in the day many of us got stoned and went home and wrote music, but only Bob Dylan wrote 'Mr. Tambourine Man'.''

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my bootheels to be wandering
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it

What a fine choice that was.

And then, to give his emotional farewell one final hit of stoner appeal, Dr. J closed with the Grateful Dead's "Ripple.''

"Well brothers and sisters the time has come ... this is Dr. J signing off. Keep peace in your heart, love in your mind, and happy trails until we meet again. Goodbye.''

He finally sounded prepared, like in the Dylan song, to fade into his own parade.

Follow this link to hear the show and see Dr. J's final playlist. And don't forget to drop something in the tip jar.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where are you Little Star?

Michael Jackson would have been 51 today. Strange, but on his day of birth the No. 1 song in America was "Little Star'' by the Elegants.

It was a pretty fair adaptation of the nursery rhyme, and if you even consider the possibility of cosmic connections you can't help but wonder if the song was a special delivery for the coming King of Pop. The Elegants never had another hit, in fact, they never even charted with another song -- making them bone fide one-hit wonders.

Where are you little star?
(Where are you?)

Whoah oh, oh, oh-uh-oh
Ratta ta ta too-ooh-ooh
Whoah oh, oh, oh-uh-oh
Ratta ta ta too-ooh-ooh

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder where you are
Wish I may, wish I might
Make this wish come true tonight
Searched all over for a love
You're the one I'm thinkin' of

Surely some radio station in Gary, Ind., was playing that song on Aug. 29, 1958. And baby Michael must have been listening.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Take me home, oh mudduh fadduh

When a novelty song rises to the top of the music charts -- and it does happen -- it's time to worry. Worry about the sudden headaches, concern about the long-term effect on our brains, apprehension about the future of the human race.

Because these songs are usually flat-out crazy. And deejays play them ceaselessly. At least they did back in the golden age of commercial radio, which only seems like a long, long time ago.

I hate to even bring up "Disco Duck'' by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots. That parody of the dance craze made it to No. 1 in October 1976 thanks to endless play on every radio station in America -- except Memphis. This was the deal: Dees worked at a station there and was forbidden to play the song, and competing stations refused to play it.

Oh, to live in Memphis in 1976 instead of duck-loving Ocala, Fla. But I guess we made it, so no harm, no fowl.

We covered this subject in a previous post, but I thought I'd risk going back there to review one less abusive example of the genre. In fact, I'm here today to defend a very nutty song from the summer of 1963.

This song blew like a gale past Peter, Paul & Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind'' and was sweeter than the Four Season's "Candy Girl'', surging to No. 2 on the Billboard chart. (But hey, lah lah, it couldn't overtake "My Boyfriend's Back.'')

Maybe it's because I was a pre-teen at the time, or maybe it's just that the singer was really more of a talking comedian. I never found Allan Sherman's "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh'' to be the least bit offensive, even though KDWB in the Twin Cities seemed to play it every hour of every day.

Hello Muddah
Hello Fadduh
Here I am at
Camp Granada
Camp is very
And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining.

What else can I say? I remember sitting on the old screened porch at Whitehall Country Club, which was located next to the community swimming pool. They had a concession window there, so that's where kids went to grab a treat during a swim break. And that's where I remember "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh'' blaring from the lifeguard's radio while I swigged a bottle of Pepsi and gnawed on a frozen Snickers bar.

Just a kid wrapped up in a stupid summer song. Good times.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Learn the words to this song

I had an old friend at work who never truly overcame the death of Steve Goodman. She would bring up his name almost weekly in conversations. Even so many years after someone's passing, that's easy to do when you are co-members of a mutual appreciation society.

I mention Goodman this morning because I heard a song of his last night that brought back some memories. How it ever got in David Allan Coe's hands I'll probably never know. They were supposed to have been friends. Mutt and Jeff, I guess. Or Water and Oil. I will give Coe his due: He made it one of the greatest beer-swilling songs of all-time:

It was all that I could do to keep from cryin'
Sometimes it seems so useless to remain
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me by my name

This is how much I like the song: Even though I disdain karaoke, I would stand up in a bar and sing that one (and I do wish you could be there beside me, and we would have to prime the pump, so to speak).

You don't have to call me Waylon Jennings
And you don't have to call me Charlie Pride
You don't have to call me Merle Haggard, anymore
Even though your on my fightin' side

Goodman was truly a gifted and beloved songwriter, though perhaps underappreciated in his short time here because others, like Coe and Arlo Guthrie with "City of New Orleans'' elevated his songs to such grand heights. And he shared some songwriting credits with John Prine, even this one.

And I'll hang around as long as you will let me
And I never minded standin' in the rain
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me by my name

Remember those lines. I might ask you to get up and sing with me one of these nights...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In defense of the Knack

Give me a catchy bass line, a few driving power chords and some naughty lyrics and I'm usually on board for a song. Which is why I never joined the "Nuke the Knack'' generation.

Nope. Never had a big problem with "My Sharona'' -- the biggest hit of 1979. It was roosting at No. 1 exactly 30 years ago today and stayed there for six weeks. But apparently it was too successful for its own good.

The band's music fell somewhere between punk and new wave, and neither faction was willing to take responsibility for it. Meanwhile, radio stations played it to excess, and before long there was a backlash that undermined the group and hastened its demise.

My take at the time, and even today, was that it wasn't disco, so what's the problem? Let the boys play. There was much worse music being produced at the time. Here's a look at the Billboard Top 5 on this day in 1979:

1. My Sharona, The Knack
2. Good Times, Chic
3. Main Event/Fight, Barbra Streisand
4. After the Love Has Gone, Earth, Wind & Fire
5. Bad Girls, Donna Summer

Does anybody even remember the song -- or the artist -- that knocked "My Sharona'' off the perch in October, "Sad Eyes'' by Robert John? I don't. But I do remember the Knacks' follow-up hit, "Good Girls Don't'' which made it to No. 11.

Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone called the Knack "possibly the most vilified non-art rock band in the history of rock 'n' roll.'' I'm not even sure what that means. But I don't think it's fair. Weird Al Yankovic launched his career with the parody "My Bologna.'' Somebody couldn't resist "Nine Coronas.'' All good fun, at the expense of a band that wasn't really all that bad.

I think I'll wear a skinny tie today in their honor. If I can find one. Meanwhile, check out their video here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why cash for clunkers didn't work

My little sister just sent me this editorial cartoon from Joe Heller of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Priceless.

My old colleague and drinking/music/yakking buddy Matt -- a diehard Bears fan -- said it best:

"Aside from serious criminal offenses, I can't think of any athlete that has wasted so much goodwill and overall appreciation in such a short time.''

I've never rooted against Favre, even after last year's fiasco sent him to the New York Jets, but donning the purple of Minnesota is just plain wrong.

Wilco? Never heard of them

Here we go again with Wilco. I'm really enjoying their new album, by the way. It's one of the best of the year so far.

But did you happen to see CBS Sunday Morning's take on the boys? You would have thought Wilco was unheard of until this summer, that only now are we lifting a veil off the unheralded band and recognizing their true musical genius. Correspondent Cynthia Bowers was effusive in her praise, stating that the well-kept secret "is out.''

True, they haven't exactly been darlings of commercial radio. But who listens to commercial radio any more? Asked if they haven't yet had a hit recognized by the traditional music audience, Tweedy replied: "We haven't even had what the non-traditional music audience would consider a hit.''

Maybe, but that's hardly a disqualifier in today's fragmented music market. You no longer have to be "mainstream'' to be a known commodity. Wilco's eight albums have generated sales of more than 4 million copies, hardly the figures of an obscure band that just stepped off the Chicago el train. They have been media darlings since their Mermaid Avenue project in 1998 with Billy Bragg.

Perhaps the segment's greatest sin was mentioning Tweedy has toiled for 20 years with his working man's approach to music without acknowledging Uncle Tupelo, the ground-breaking band that helped define alt-country music, and to whom Tweedy should be deeply grateful.

Wilco, hands down, is one of America's best bands. It is not one of America's best-kept secrets, and hasn't been for years.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Life and death on the lunatic fringe

Was it any surprise that Keith Moon didn't make it to the ripe old age of 63?

He would have hit that mile marker today. Instead, we'll observe the 31st anniversary of his death in a couple of weeks. He maintained a crazy, destructive lifestyle with tragic results, succumbing to a drug overdose on Sept. 7, 1978, at age 32.

He was the perfect drummer for The Who. Zany, bombastic and out of control. He destroyed drum kits and, away from the stage, became notorious for blowing up hotel toilets with Cherry Bombs or M-80s. Moon the Loon.

We've heard for some time that Roger Daltrey is planning a film on Moon's life, with Mike Myers picked for the lead role, but somehow that doesn't seem right.

In a ranking of the Top 100 rock drummers by digitaldreamdoor, Moon trails only Neil Peart of Rush and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, who is also deceased. We know how silly these lists are, but you're probably curious, so for arguments sake:

1. Neil Peart, Rush
2. John Bonham, Led Zeppelin
3. Keith Moon, The Who
5. Ginger Baker, Cream
6. Terry Bozzio, Frank Zappa
7. Bill Bruford, Yes and King Crimson
8. Hal Blaine, session player
9. Ian Paice, Deep Purple
10. Mike Portnoy, Dream Theater

I'm not a big fan of drum solos (and where did it get Iron Butterfly's Ron Bushy (No. 60 on the list), but on the rare occasions when Moon took over the kit he delivered the goods. Mostly, though, he fueled the band's appetite for destruction as a perfect complement to Pete Townshend's smashing (literally) guitar antics. Sorry he didn't make it.

Oh, and Ringo is No. 13 on that list.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's Tarantino time again

Has anybody seen the new Quentin Tarantino flick?

I may attempt to psyche myself up for some Nazi scalping, clubbing and mayhem so I can try make it through "Inglourious Basterds'' this weekend.

If you can get beyond the violence in Tarantino's films -- and that's not easy -- there's usually something redeeming to take away from the theater. For me it's almost always the music. No current filmmaker matches a song to a scene better than Tarantino.

In "Reservoir Dogs'' could there have been a better selection for the torture scene than "Stuck in the Middle With You'' by Stealer's Wheel? I can't imagine Michael Madsen dancing around with his ear-paring razor to any other song.

QT scores with three of my favorite movie soundtracks. (Don't look for musicals here; I think they deserve a separate category. If I included them "The Wizard of Oz'' would be No. 1.) If not for the rockumentaries "Stop Making Sense'' and "The Last Waltz'', he'd have two of my top three.

1. Stop Making Sense (1984), Talking Heads
2. The Last Waltz (1978), the Band
3. Reservoir Dogs (1992), various artists
4. The Graduate (1968), Simon & Garfunkel
5. Pulp Fiction (1994), various artists
6. Easy Rider (1969), various artists
7. The Big Chill (1983), verious artists
7. Shaft (1971), Isaac Hayes
8. Jackie Brown (1997), various artists
9. American Graffiti (1973), various artists

You might have other ideas.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Still works for me

Have to run a few errands this morning, but I'll be back. Meanwhile, here are some lyrics to live by:

Think of your fellow man
Lend him a helping hand
Put a little love in your heart
You see it's getting late
Oh please don't hesitate
Put a little love in your heart
And the world will be a better place
And the world will be a better place
For you and me
You just wait and see

Yep, Jackie DeShannon's "Put a Little Love in Your Heart.'' Why? It's her birthday (the big six-five), and the song -- which helped define the evolving culture of the Sixties -- has what back then might have been called "a good groove.'' And you know by now we're all about good grooves.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not so easy to forget

The songs that stick with you, that burn into your memory banks, aren't always the best ones. They're just the ones that you remember.

The operative phrase is "that's a catchy tune.'' In other words, listener beware: This could get stuck in your head for eternity.

Exhibit A: Herman's Hermits brainwashed us with "I'm Henry VIII.'' They had their fair share of respectable pop songs; why did they have to go and do "second verse, same as the first''?

It was a crummy song, seared permanently into our brains. So unforgettable, in fact, that we don't even need an Exhibit B.

But here's one that's not so bad. This morning the chorus just popped into my head (actually, popped out -- it's been in there for 30 years):

You're just a coca cola cowboy
You got an Eastwood smile and Robert Redford hair
But you walked across my heart like it was Texas
And you taught me how to say I just don't care

It came from the prolific pen of Mel Tillis, one of country music's most successful and revered songwriters. Tillis wrote more than 1,000 tunes, had his share of chart-toppers and provided plenty of ammo for other artists ("Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town'', "I Ain't Never'' and "Detroit City'').

Those songs are both memorable and remember-able, but no moreso than "Coca Cola Cowboy'', which spent 11 weeks atop the Billboard country chart during the summer of 1979.

What do you expect from an artist who leads his website with this quote: "It seems like just yesterday that I left Florida head'n for Nashville, Tennessee in my '49 Mercury with a busted windshield, a pregnant wife and twenty-nine dollars in my pocket.''

Mel came from Tampa, by way of Pahokee -- fertile song-writing territory for sure. And he delivered more than a few gems that stick on your brain like cornbread in your belly. But never drive you crazy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Talkin' Beatles, Ringo and the Phlop

On this day in 1964 the Beatles began their first full American tour. They had created mass hysteria in February with appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, and now they were coming back to seal the deal. Which they surely did.

They may even have been responsible for one of the worst flops in baseball pennant race history. No one has a better explanation for what unnerved the Philadelphia Phillies, who blew a 6 1/2-game lead by losing 10 straight immediately after the tour ended.

(One undeniable baseball fact: A scheduled day off for the Beatles became a date at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City after Athletics owner Charles O. Finley offered $150,000 to bring in the Fab Four, who appropriately opened the show with "Kansas City.'')

The tour was a whirlwind affair, featuring 34 concerts in 32 days. The lads typically opened with "Twist and Shout'' and played a 12-song set that was over in a half-hour or less. It featured jelly bean flinging teenie boppers, a death threat to Ringo, and a post-Hurricane Bob date in Jacksonville where they had to nail down the drummer's kit because of high winds.

As a public service to fans who may have forgotten, never knew, or were preoccupied at the time with "Goldfinger: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'', here are the dates and venues:

Aug. 19,Cow Palace San Francisco
Aug. 20, Convention Center, Las Vegas
Aug. 21, Coliseum, Seattle
Aug. 22, Empire Stadikum, Vancouver
Aug. 23, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
Aug. 26, Red Rocks Ampitheater, Denver
Aug. 27, Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati
Aug. 28-29, Forest Hills Stadium, NYC
Aug. 30, Convention Hall, Atlantic City
Sept. 2, Convention Center, Philadelphia
Sept. 3, Indiana State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis
Sept. 4, Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee
Sept. 5, International Ampitheater, Chicago
Sept. 6, Olympia Stadium, Detroit
Sept. 7, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto
Sept. 8, Forum, Montreal
Sept. 11, Gator Bowl, Jacksonville
Sept. 12, Boston Gardens, Boston
Sept. 13, Civic Center, Baltimore
Sept. 14, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh
Sept. 15, Public Auditorium, Cleveland
Sept. 16, City Park Stadium, New Orleans
Sept. 17, Municipal Stadium, Kansas City
Sept. 18, Memorial Coliseum, Dallas
Sept. 20, Paramount Theater, NYC

Don't mean to shill for, but that's a pretty cool T-shirt...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Playin' since they's babies

NASHVILLE -- Where can you blow in on a Sunday after midnight and still catch six different bands flailing away in the confines of one city block? And grab some late-nite grub while the fiddles are flying? Nashville's Lower Broad, there's where.

Honky tonkin' is never dull in downtown Nashville. The gateway for me has always been Robert's Western World, where the grill is open until 1:30 and the band plays until 2. Get a load of their special $5 ''stimulus package'':

All-beef hot dog
Busch beer
Lay's potato chips

For five bucks! Now how's that for Southern hospitality? (I've never tried a Moonpie and beer, so I stuck with the old standby: a chili cheese dog and a bottle of Miller Lite).

Esquire magazine rated Robert's one of the best bars in America in 2006, which is a nice feather to wear in your 10-gallon hat. But it's no secret to regulars that this is one of Music City's must-visit venues. And notoriety has not changed the the place one bit.

The only downside to a midnight meander along Lower Broad is that two favorite haunts -- Gruhn Guitars and Hatch Show Print -- keep more regular business hours. But that just allows you to concentrate on the music -- and the music is boot-kickin' beautiful.

John Sebastian paid these incredible musicians -- most of whom play for bar tips -- the ultimate tribute in "Nashville Cats'':

Well, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee anthill
Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar cases in Nashville
And any one that unpacks his guitar could play
Twice as better than I will

All true. I humbly rest my (guitar) case.

Home is where the cheese curds are

MILWAUKEE, WIS. -- Ten very good reasons to make Wisconsin a summer destination, in reverse pyramid style:
10. The garage door at the Schuster Mansion in Milwaukee. (The historic B&B offers many other wonderful features, but you have to book a reservation there yourself to find out.)
9. Miller Park, where you can arrive one hour before a night sellout with the roof open and still score an outfield field level seat for $20.
8. The sausage races at Miller Park, especially when they run a special relay race.
7. The seventh-inning stretch, where "Take Me Out to the Ballgame'' is a mere prelude to the "Beer Barrel Polka.''
6. Sweet corn in season.
5. Batter-fried cheese curds, the most fabulous new item on the menu at the Rock Bottom Brewery.
4. A drive along Milwaukee's Lakeshore Drive, where seriously undertanned folks strip down to nothing even when it's cold and windy because it's their beach and their summer and nothing's going to ruin it for them.
3. Madison's State Street, the coolest stretch of shops and bars and Bohemian culture in the Midwest.
2. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Sunday print edition, definitively answering the question ''Why read newspapers?''
1. Must-have T-shirts, including this one from Sconnie Nation: A picture of former Packers QB Brett Favre overprinted on the state of Wisconsin, with the words "We'll never forget you Brent''

Saturday, August 15, 2009

America's newest sailors

GREAT LAKES, ILL -- Graduation from navy boot camp is a big deal. Anyone who attempts to negotiate the roads leading to Naval Station Great Lakes on Friday mornings would know that first hand. Just getting there is half the deal.

And we had it easy, or so we thought. Normally 15 divisions -- between 70 and 80 soldiers per division -- graduate each week before heading out to specialized training schools around the country. Friday only 10 divisions were involved in the ceremony. Zachary James Smith is one of the Navy's newest 731 sailors.

We also had a courtesy van driver who knew what he was doing. With traffic backed up nearly two miles on Green Bay Road, he took an alternative route that got us from the hotel to the base in 20 minutes.

Left to my own devices, I'm not sure what music I would have chosen to play along the way. Maybe some John Phillip Sousa marches to get in the mood? Our driver was playing an FM station that offered (besides some really loud commericals) these songs:

Revolution, The Beatles
One Way or Another, Blondie
That's All, Genesis
Rock of Ages, Def Leppard

And somehow those seemed appropriate.

The ceremony itself lasts only an hour, with much patriotic pomp, circumstance and genuine emotion. And the music, including a stirring rendition of the Navy Hymn, will put you in the spirit of the moment.

Eternal Father strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!

It's a pretty special event seeing your kid for the first time after eight weeks of basic. But the time was too short -- shorter than his new haircut. After we visited with him briefly a second time at Midway Airport, he was off to Pensacola to really learn the knots of this Navy thing.

Anchors aweigh, my boy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul: 1915-2009

WAUKEGAN, ILL. -- I was bearing down on his hometown yesterday when I heard the news: The legend is gone.

The tributes already were coming in on the radio for Les Paul, profiled in a June blog on the occasion of his 94th birthday. I said at the time that he was still The Man, and Charles commented that the guitar legend was still playing Monday night gigs in New York City. Amazing.

I can't really top those recent thoughts, except to recount that game at Miller Park last summer when he tossed out the ceremonial first pitch. Milwaukee was proud to call him a native son, but he was so much bigger than that. To borrow an old sports adage, he wore No. 93 that day but he was No. 1 in our hearts.

And he always will be.

(I have temporarily lost my imaging function on Blogger, so please click on the link near the top to see the pictures posted in June.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back to the crossroads

WHITEHALL, WIS. -- How bizarre to be listening to Bob Dylan's "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat'' at the Alternative Ground on Main Street in the ol' Hub. Wonderfully bizarre.

You can bring in a guitar here and start a jam of your own. I did that yesterday. But today the tunes are too good. Don't want to wreck the karma. "Papa Was a Rolling Stone'' is on now -- the incomparable version by David Lindley. The shop owner tells me we're listening to The Loft, my favorite satellite station, which can get you jumpin' like a cup of steaming java.

This place used to be the Farmer's Store, where you could buy bib overalls, a quart of milk and the latest Top 40 singles all in the same purchase. And kitty corner was the Walgert Hotel and Tap Room, where I pretty much lived as a kid. Tragically, that place has been a vacant lot since probably the Seventies.

I'm still thinking about Woodstock, about how very few people beyond the cattle herd that showed up even knew it was happening. The mainstream music of the summer of 1969 included Zager and Evans' "In the Year 2525'' -- which was actually written five years earlier -- and Oliver's "Good Morning Starshine.''

I was not listening to Jimi Hendrix at the time. Or Arlo Guthrie, or Joe Cocker (though I soon would be). I was burning the grooves off Johnny Cash's "Live from San Quentin'', which included the crossover hit "A Boy Named Sue.'' That album hit much closer to my home that summer than anything that was going on in upstate New York.

Here was your Billboard Top 5 on Woodstock weekend in '69:
1. Honky Tonk Women, Rolling Stones
2. A Boy Named Sue, Johnny Cash
3. Crystal Blue Persuasion, Tommy James & the Shondells
4. Sweet Carolina, Neil Diamond
5. In the Year 2525, Zager & Evans

Woodstock? Sure, I wish I had been there. But I wasn't. And if I could ride the time machine back 40 years it might be to this very corner of the American heartland. And the folks around here know what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Get me out of this chicken outfit

 WHITEHALL, WIS -- We're approaching the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and I have chickens, drugs and L.A. on my mind.

Which is just another way of introducing one of my favorite paranoid gonzo drug songs, namely "Coming into Los Angeles'' by Arlo Guthrie:

Coming in from London
From over the pole
Flying in a big airliner
Chickens flying everywhere around the plane
Could we ever feel much finer?

Funny thing, but my sister Sue has recently become a chicken farmer (is that what they call someone who raises hens?) She nursed them from the incubator stage and now they've become egg-laying fools. And what they say about farm-fresh eggs is really true. There's nothing like them.

Drugs and L.A., well, it's not so fun to report that my identity issue has not gone away. It cropped up again last week. Even though I've never lived in L.A., never been arrested, detained or incarcerated in L.A., I continue to be linked to someone else's dirty deeds there.

I guess if you beat 'em, might as well sing along with 'em:

Coming into Los Angeles
Bringing in a couple of keys
Don't touch my bags if you please
Mister Customs Man
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A song for Robert

WOODSTOCK, GA. -- Two verses and a bridge, that's all that's there. It's just a little blues shuffle in the key of E.

Going to Abu Dhabi
Abu Doobie Dhabi
If you see me walkin' through the lobby
Hold on before I get away
'Cause I'm going to Abu Dhabi
And I sure don't need to get there today

Goin' to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Doo
If you were in my sandals what would you do
Go to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Dooo
I'm going to Abu Dhabi
And that's why I'm feeling so blue

Couldn't get a job
In the good old USA
So now I'll edit copy
Seven thousand miles away
Going to Abu Dhabi ...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer in the city

ATLANTA -- I heard the honking cars this morning and I didn't need to go outside to to know what was happening. Monday morning traffic in the big city. No sirens, though -- at least at the moment.

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck gettin' dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city

Nothing like a little Lovin' Spoonful to get you in a city-fied mood. Kind of weird. "Summer in the City'' has been covered by everybody from B.B. King to the Butthole Surfers, but it was John Sebastian who took it to No. 1. The same cat who sang "Welcome Back'' for the TV show Wecome Back Kotter. Damn, slipped into the past again.

Besides the traffic, which is legendary, Atlanta in August can be sizzling hot -- fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement hot -- and this August is no different. You can't afford to stray too far from the liquid refreshments.

And we'll need 'em today, Roberto and I will. It's moving day. In two more days my friend is headed to the other side of the world -- seven thousand miles, give or take a few hundred kilometers -- to Abu Frickin Dhabi. How strange is that?

Robert is packing up dishes and my mind wants to slip into Guy Clark's "L.A. Freeway'', but Paul Simon has a grip on us right now. He's singing "Something So Right'' and I swear at this moment I have never heard a more beautiful song.

It's too late to fight this thing...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Got to get back to you

Well you can drop me off on Peachtree
I got to feel that Georgia sun
And the women there in Atlanta
Make you awfully glad you come

I love Atlanta. Lived there nine years of my life, during two very different stretches of life. And it's always good to be back. And there's no better song to put you in the mood than Little Feat's "Oh Atlanta''.

My buddy and I are heading over to The Albert now for a burger and beer. Wish you could join us...

UPDATE : The Albert had 25-cent smoked wings, served by the lovely and talented Larenda. Good times. And the music we heard there included:

Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan
Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, Wayne Hancock
Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd
Jackson, June Carter and Johnny Cash

I saw Dylan do that song here at the Fox Theatre, probably around 1982, during his holy roller phase. Great memories.

Larenda was bemoaning the fact that XM wasn't playing George Jones. You have to love that...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The journey begins

Road trip!!!!

So what would be your top 10 CDs to get you down the road? If you're like me, that's an ever-changing list. Lots of variables to consider: time of day -- or night, or season -- destination, vehicle, traffic, terrain, passenger list. Probably even moon phase.

But I'm already making this too difficult. Let's just say I packed TWO CD cases, and every disc will get some play somewhere along the way.

Maybe it's better to ask the question at the end of a journey, after you've had time to test drive all the music you played along the way.

But you have to start somewhere, so here the first six in the player:

1. Blue Mountain, Omnibus
2. Graham Parker, Mona Lisa's Sister
3. Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense
4. Robert Kiyosaki, Take Control of Your Life
5. Derailers, Reverb Deluxe
6. Cesaria Evora, Cafe Atlantico

Wait, I'm not ready to take control of my life. Substitute the motivational speaker for Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde.''

Heck of a mix. Don't know if any of those will still be standing by the end of the trip, but they should get me halfway to Lookout Mountain...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Somebody done somebody wrong

Happy birthday, Billy Joe Thomas.

Some of us remember you before you were cool, before "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head'' propelled you to stardom and you could seemingly do no wrong.

We knew, without even knowing what you looked like -- and that surely sealed the deal -- that you weren't going to be producing little-known singles for Hickory Records your whole career. So we played the grooves off "Billy and Sue'' and waited for it to happen.

Next we snagged "The Eyes of a New York Woman'' and thought, yep, this guy has a chance. Then came "Hooked on a Feeling'' and there was no doubt whatsoever -- that single climbed the charts to No. 5 and now everyone knew your voice (and the face that went with it).

The movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'' was your magic carpet ride, helping "Raindrops'' become one of the most popular songs of 1969. There you were, the pride of Hugo, Okla., hottest new singer on the planet.

Then we went off to college and started listening to music that wasn't so, well, mainstream. Music that had been around awhile but we hadn't been exposed to. And it was all albums -- nobody brought 45s to the dorm. Albums like "Traffic'' and "Disraeli Gears'' and "Electric Ladyland'' and "Trout Mask Replica.''

And we dropped you like a bad habit. Not that it mattered one bit. Then, or now. Tomorrow night when you take the stage at the Palace Theatre in Corsicana, Texas, you'll have a packed house of people hootin' and hollerin' and making a big fuss over you. Still slaying 'em at 67.

Way to go, man.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Whistle me Elmo

I consider myself a pretty fair whistler, but I've never been mistaken for Elmo Tanner.

In fact, until a friend told me a story the other day I had never heard of Elmo Tanner.

So let me tell you the story. My friend was in a store with his father, who was whistling a happy tune as they were walking down an aisle shopping. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man appeared and exclaimed: "I know you -- you're Elmo Tanner!''

Well, there was just no convincing this guy that my friend's father was not Elmo Tanner. The fellow was dead certain that the whistle he heard could only have come from the man who performed with the Ted Weems Orchestra. Now we all remember, with the help of Google, that Weems was a popular bandleader in the Midwest back in the day who helped launch the career of Perry Como. (Tanner, though talented himself, apparently didn't have the staying power of the more famous vocalist.)

Anyhow, they finally shook this guy and finished their shopping. But once they got to the checkout counter the pest appeared again -- more certain than ever that he was in the midst of a whistling legend. "C'mon, I know you're Elmo Tanner -- you gotta give me your autograph!''

So my buddy's father gave it to him. The autograph, I mean.

There's a life lesson there for everyone. I'm just sorry I never got to hear my friend's father whistle, because I have absolutely no doubt he was in a league with the great Elmo Tanner.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sure gonna miss her

As if the heavy burdens of the world aren't pressing hard enough on our tired shoulders. What are we to make of the news that Paul Abdul will be leaving "American Idol''?

I started reading this morning and almost spilled my coffee upon discovering that Paula was a judge on the show! All this time I thought she had been a recurring contestant whom they kept bringing back because they felt sorry for her.

All kidding aside, I love Paula Abdul. But you know it's the beginning of the end for FOX's wildly popular show. It's all about chemistry, and "Idol" had it before adding a fourth banana to its judging lineup last season.

Remember what happened to ABC's Monday Night Football after Howard Cosell left the show? In 1983 ABC added O.J. Simpson to the booth, joining Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith. The next season Cosell was gone.

One key difference: Humble Howard didn't announce his departure on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer of Sinatra continues

We've toasted Frank Sinatra several times already this summer. Must be something in the hi-balls. And now this: Our good buddy Psycho has passed along this must-see animation video of Sinatra. It's a scream.

And while we're wondering what Frankie might have really thought about MySpace, social networking and music on the web, consider the song "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)'' by Cracker, especially this rant:

What the world needs now
Is a new Frank Sinatra
So I can get you in bed
Cause what the world needs now
is another folk singer
like I need a hole in my head

I'm thinkin' ol' Frankie would have dug that. I'm not as sure about the video below. But you never know.

BTW, I saw Cracker's sold-out show at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa Saturday night, and I'm here to confirm that this is a tour you definitely want to tap into. Enjoy "Teen Angst'' now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The list you DIDN'T want to see

People love lists, and here at Six String Sanctuary we feel a responsibility to provide them whenever possible to support our noble mission, which is: Monetize the blog!!!!

No, no, no. Just kidding. Lewie filled the tip jar over the weekend; we're flush for another week.

We're actually here today to squash forever a rumor that circulated for some time following the Green Bay Packers' march to the Super Bowl XXXI championship in New Orleans. (This was probably hatched by Chicago Bears fans hoping to derail the Pack during their exciting 1996 season.)

The rumor: Linemen for the Packers girded for games by dancing the Macarena. After much diligent research, our unbiased conclusion is this: False!!! It's true the team and dance are inexorably linked in history. On this date in 1996 "Macarena'' hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart just as Coach Mike Holmgren was writing his script for the championship run. The song's wild popularity -- 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart -- roughly paralleled the Pack's 13-3 regular season. But Reggie White dancing the Macarena? Perish the thought.

I'm just glad we had football back in 1996, because the music and videos they were playing back then, well, look for yourself. Two songs from '96 made Billboard's all-time Top 10. (Don't ask us for the formula; it supposedly is a blend of sales and airplay. We call it a lab experiment gone bad.)

Billboard's All-Time Top 10 Songs
1. The Twist, Chubby Checker, 1960 and 1962
2. Smooth, Santana Featuring Rob Thomas, 1999
3. Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin, 1959
4. How Do I Live, LeAnn Rimes, 1997
5. Macarena, Bayside Boys Mix, 1996
6. Physical, Olivia Newton-John, 1981
7. You Light up My Life, Debby Boone, 1977
8. Hey Jude, Beatles, 1968
9. We Belong Together, Mariah Carey, 2005
10. Un-Break My Heart, Toni Braxton, 1996

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another strip tease

Here's an anniversary of sorts: On this day in 1984 Charles Schulz became the first artist to have his comic strip appear in 2,000 newspapers.

My question: What took the Daily Times of Portsmouth, Ohio, so long to climb on board with "Peanuts'', the most popular strip in history? Were those readers forced to go elsewhere for their daily fix of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the gang for the first 33 years of its syndication?

In its heyday "Peanuts'' appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers worldwide. So beloved is the strip that many newspapers continue to run reprints -- nine years after Schulz's death.

But the world is changing, no doubt about it. One day soon there may not be 2,000 newspapers left. This sobering thought does not deter Sarasota artist Rick Hotton, who would like his "Holy Mole'' strip to be appear in every newspaper from Anniston to Abu Dhabi. "Holy Mole'' currently appears in exactly two daily publications, the Bradenton Herald and St. Petersburg Times.

Of course, there are other venues for comic strips, like magazines, books and online. Some people who still enjoy "reading the comics'' but won't pick up a newspaper are now downloading favorites on their cellphones.

It's a tough hill to climb. Hotton must feel at times like Custer, which he drew for a strip next week. (Click on the image to see better detail). But Hotton, a karate instructor, is a warrior with great spirit. Next week you'll be able to visit his revamped website and see some dynamic changes. Check it out and leave feedback. Maybe it's time to drink the lemon ... er, Kool Aid.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pssst: More than just a memory

Our connections to music are usually obvious. We share songs and CDs and conversations about our favorite -- and not-so-favorite -- artists, and if we get to know each other well enough we gain a good understanding of each other's sensibilities.

But we should never be too pushy. Back when my niece Lori was singing in Wisconsin road houses with the Bear Creek Band, I remember handing her a tape (that's how long ago it was) of Kim Richey and strongly encouraging her to do some listening. Whenever I listened to Richey I could visualize Lori on the stage doing "Those Words We Said.'' Truth is, she had the pipes to sing a song like that.

I don't even remember if Bear Creek eventually added Kim Richey to their playlist. But I do recall, years later, Lori and I going to see Richey at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. It was a warm-up show for a new tour and Richey was, shall we say, a bit rusty. There was new music, a new look, and the show just didn't deliver what we were expecting. But it doesn't -- it shouldn't -- diminish our impressions of an artist we really appreciate.

Flash ahead to last week. I received a letter from my son Zach, who most of you know by now is in Navy boot camp. It was great to hear from him, to get a glimpse of what his structured life is like, and to read some of his written thoughts. You wonder, besides the physical and mental punishment (the Navy wouldn't call it that), what these recruits really go through. Unable to read a newspaper or know what's going on outside their training command. Unable to watch television, listen to music, pick up a guitar or have a minute to do anything that isn't dictated to him.

Zach's letter was very personal and touching, and nothing he would want me to share with you here. Except maybe this: Of all the things he was recalling to keep his sanity, one thing he mentioned was a voice that had somehow attached itself to some of those memories. A voice he probably heard for the first time when he was 10 years old.

Sometimes, I'm reminded, the music connections are not so obvious. And now I'm pretty sure the next time Zach and I are tooling down some highway together we won't have to ask each other what's going in the player. Kim Richey will already be in there.

Friends, we give you Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout No. 11.