Friday, October 30, 2009

Somebody to love

We're drawing dangerously close to the point where kiddies refer to SSS as "music geezers talking about music geezers.'' But how could we not mention the 70th birthday of Grace Slick?

I know, I know. Spoils it for me, too. Grace Slick was too sexy, surly and snarly good to get old. When we listen to "White Rabbit'' or "Somebody to Love'' we want to think about the former model with the yowly vocals who helped transform Jefferson Airplane into a smoldering rock powerhouse.

Some great musicians came through Airplane, and later Starship. Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen (who would split and form Hot Tuna with Jack Casady) and Skip Spence (Moby Grape). But the key change came when Slick replaced Signe Anderson at the mic. Can you imagine anyone else delivering the lyrics to those songs?

"White Rabbit'' ushered in the age of psychedelic rock with Slick's mind-altering intro:

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small

From there she just blows the drawers off the song. She was 27 at the time, and that's the way I'm going to remember her. You can too by viewing this video:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pssst: Dark Side's still caviar, four star

Our list of favorite albums changes through the years as we hear new music and artists and our musical palettes continually expand. The choices also get harder over time.

Today I would be hard-pressed, after all I've heard, to name a Top 5 -- I'm just not able to be that restrictive and confining with my choices. But I can tell you one album that lived on my list for a very long time:

Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon.''

And I must not have been alone. On this date in 1983 "Dark Side'' became the longest-charting record of all time by racking up its 491st week on Billboard's Hot 200 album chart. It wouldn't slip off the list until it had been there an astounding 741 weeks.

This choice coincided with the purchase in college of a new Pioneer stereo system and top-of-the-line Koss headphones, which made the listening experience deep, dark and deliciously satisfying. (Another album purchased near the same time would also stay on my list for several years: The Doors' "L.A. Woman.'')

"Dark Side'' is almost too obvious to be a Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout (PSSST). But it would make even less sense to ignore it, so there it is, No. 14 on a growing list of music we just plain dig and shouldn't be without.

David Gilmour was not a shitty guitar player, and Roger Waters could write lyrics, as "Money'' attests:

Money, get away
Get a good job with good pay and you're okay
Money, it's a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I'll buy me a football team

Money, get back
I'm all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack
Money, it's a hit
Don't give me that do goody good bullshit
I'm in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet

Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it's no surprise that they're
giving none away

I've gotta find a new set of headphones.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The corner of North and Swan

"Little Green Apples'' has been recorded by no fewer than 27 artists, but nobody did it better than O.C. Smith.

The sweet Bobby Russell song coulda, shoulda and probably woulda been a No. 1 hit in 1968, if not for the Beatles' "Hey Jude,'' which blocked several contenders during its nine-week run atop the Billboard chart. Even so, it sold a million copies and won a well-deserved Grammy award for Russell. Remember the setup?

And I wake up in the mornin'
With my hair down in my eyes and she says "Hi"
And I stumble to the breakfast table
While the kids are goin' off to school... goodbye
And she reaches out 'n' takes my hand
And squeezes it 'n' says "How ya feelin' hon?"
And I look across at smilin' lips
That warm my heart and see my mornin' sun

The song works because God DID make little green apples, and it DOES snow in Minneapolis when the winter comes. And there ARE such things as make-believe, puppy dogs and autumn leaves and BB guns.

I'm tapping this out while sipping a cup of joe at Alterra, corner of North Avenue and Swan Boulevard in Wauwatosa, my new hometown. Wauwatosa is a Potawatomi name for firefly. The locals just call it Tosa, which suits me just fine.

The leaves here, by the way, are in full color and I just met a puppy dog named Reggie. A nearly perfect day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Remember when football was violent?

Before we get back to music, a few words about Ultimate Fighting Championships. Have you seen this? It's scary stuff.

We went to a major chain sports restaurant Saturday night to watch some college football and have a bite to eat. There weren't many good, competitive evening games so we didn't think it would be a problem finding a seat in the place. The American League Championship Series game in New York had been rained out, so no baseball either.

Before we could get to the bar we had to find a parking spot outside, which proved nearly impossible. I had never seen so many cars parked outside the restaurant. Finally inside, there was not a single stool at the bar -- and this is the biggest sports sports bar I've ever been in.

While waiting to be seated at a corner table in the jam-packed restaurant we looked around to see what was being shown on the jumbo TV screens. It was frightening. More than half of the 40 or so sets were tuned to UFC. This was fight night, and the rabid crowd had come to drink and cheer for blood and mayhem.

It's this way every Saturday night, we were told by the waitress who finally seated us in a little cubby off the bar. We couldn't ask her to change the set nearest us because a pack of juiced up viewers was watching UFC, cheering as if Tennessee was lining up to attempt a winning field goal try against Alabama. (OK, this isn't SEC country, but since when do you go to a sports bar on Saturday and not expect to see the best football games available?)

I'm not here to debate the value or legitimacy of UFC -- a form of no holds barred, mixed martial arts fighting where competitors basically tee off on each other and blood squirts everywhere. "Human cock fighting'' it has been called by legislators who have attempted to ban it. I just can't help but believe some kids who watch this stuff over drinks don't think they can take care of any problem in the parking lot with a sucker punch. But, hey, I'm no psychologist. Maybe football does the same thing.

I miss walking into a sports bar on Saturday to watch a football game and catch a few highlights. When I ask what's happening to society I already know the answer. Some of us are turning into old farts who stubbornly hold on to traditions and societal values that are sadly slipping away.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Destination Pearl Harbor

Here she is, friends, the USS O'Kane. Zach's new ride.

This is quite a step up from my kid's Chevy pickup. She's a destroyer, 505 feet long with nearly 7,000 tons of displacement. She has a cruising speed of 30 knots and a range of 4,400 miles, with a complement of 23 officers and 300 enlisted men.

And her home is Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Zach just received his orders and he'll be shipping there soon for his first assigment as a seaman. Way to go, kid.

Richard O'Kane was a sub commander whose heroic exploits in World War II are well documented. In five patrols in the Pacific aboard the legendary USS Tang he wreaked havoc on the enemy, sinking a record 31 vessels and damaging two others. He was also credited with the recovery at sea of more than 20 downed airmen.

The Tang was eventually stopped by an errant torpedo that sank the sub and caused the deaths of all but eight sailors. O'Kane, who was thrown from the deck into the water by the initial explosion, survived the ordeal but spent the balance of the war in a Japanese prison-of-war camp.

O'Kane, who would rise to the rank of Rear Admiral, received the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit, the Navy Cross and a slew of other decorations. He died in 1994 at age 83. He's buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 59, Grave 874.

He was the kind of sailor they name ships after. The USS O'Kane. Now it means something.

Be safe out there, Zach. You're riding with history.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Old treasures, new beginnings

Cardboard sign says "Yard Sale"
Real estate sign says "sold"
Family picnic table holds all that it can hold
On the grass and on the sidewalk, well there must be half the town
Ain't it funny, how a broken home can bring the prices down

What ever became of Sammy Kershaw?

I ask that after listening to Kershaw's weepy "Yard Sale'' from the 1991 album "Don't Go Near the Water.''

A post at Amazon included this comment about the album: "My very favorite singer of any kind of music is George Jones. And this album will remind people of the type of songs George would sing; not to mention that Sammy's voice is strikingly similar on this album to George's. In fact, I know many people who were fooled. This is EXCELLENT!!!!''

Damn, I never heard this one. How could I have been in the dark for 18 years?

I only brought up "Yard Sale'' because it's Saturday morning and I'm about to make a "garagin' run'' to snag a few functional items for my new pad. But once I started thinking about that Possum-like voice I really did wonder about Sammy.

SSS is happy to report Kershaw is still touring, and proud to be your source for his upcoming schedule:

Nov. 14: Orleans County Fair, Cartersville, Ga.
Nov. 15: Von Braun Civic Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Nov. 20: Peppermill Casino, Wendover, Nev.
Nov. 27: Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity House, Auburn, Ala.
Nov. 28: Hog Creek Ice House, Speegleville, Texas

If I spot a Sammy Kershaw album this morning I hope you know I'll be snapping it up.

Friday, October 23, 2009

One Cadillac short of heaven

Looky here: Somebody who doesn't have 70 or 80 birthday candles to blow out! Dwight Yoakam's working on it, though: He turns 56 today!

We mentioned the Bakersfield sound in a recent blog. Nobody has taken it and run with it like Yoakam, a Kentucky native who grew up in Ohio and made his way to California after an early stint in Nashville didn't pan out.

Although Yoakam is almost always seen with an acoustic guitar in hand, his sound is distinctly Telecaster driven. Credit is due Pete Anderson, a longtime producer and gitarzan who provided the Tele twang on many of Yoakam's records.

This seems the perfect time to mention that "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.'' is one of the greatest country albums of the past 25 years, but barely: it came out in 1986. Let's just say that few artists have come along and topped it.

You might not know it, but underneath that cowboy hat is a bit of punkish allure. Early in his West Coast career Yoakam mixed it up with the Blasters and X, and he toured with the Twin Cities punk progenitors Husker Du. Once "Guitars'' rocketed to No. 1 there was nothing to do but ride that pony, which Yoakam certainly has done.

Included on the album -- Yoakam's first of three consecutive No. 1 sellers -- are a pair of Top 5 singles that'll hold their own against anything that's come out of Nashville since then: "Honky Tonk Man'' and "Guitars, Cadillacs.''

Now it's guitars, cadillacs, hillbilly music
Lonely, lonely streets that I call home
Yea, my guitars, cadillacs, hillbilly music
It's the only thing that keeps me hangin' on

I'm just one Cadillac short of making that work.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time Out for some cool cats

It's quite an accomplishment just to be alive at age 80. To make a list of the most powerful octogenarians in America? That would really be something (and most of us still have several years to work on it!)

Slate's "80 Over 80'' list for 2009 is available at:

What triggers this conversation is not heavy hitters like former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, evangelist Billy Graham or Playboy kingpin Hugh Hefner (who dropped four spots this year to No. 19). You'd expect to see their mug shots here. What's great is to view the musicians who made the list. Here they are:

22. B.B. King, 84
35. Tony Bennett, 82
42. Pete Seeger, 90
46. Dave Brubeck, 88
63. Pinetop Perkins, 96

I don't know that "powerful'' is the right word to describe these splendid musical artifacts. It's just great to see them on any list of living people. We caught glimpses of Seeger during the Inauguration and on the occasion of his 90th birthday, and B.B. is an ageless wonder.

What I didn't realize is that Brubeck is still tickling the ivories like it's 1959 and he's recording "Time Out'' (which is going in the player today). That classic -- which became the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies -- itself turned 50 this year.

Jerry, a colleague at my new job, recently took his wife to Branson to see Johnny Mathis. I thought: Johnny Mathis is still alive? Apparently Mathis is alive and well and still packing them in. Of course he's a mere 74 -- a spring chicken compared to this group.

Here's to cool cats who keep on keepin' on. Hell, the average age of this group is 88. Play on!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Which TV theme song was better?

Vic Mizzy, who wrote the theme songs for both the "Addams Family'' and "Green Acres'' TV series, has passed. Here's a link to the L.A. Times obituary:

Vic Mizzy dies at 93; film and TV composer wrote 'Addams Family' theme song --

Now those were two catchy tunes. Which one is better? I was prepared to give "Green Acres'' the nod for no better reason than "farm living is the life for me,'' but some folks think the "Addams Family,'' whose catchy intro became a staple in baseball stadiums, deserves the edge. Plus, you have to give points for using "ooky'' as a rhyme word:

They're creepy and they're kooky
Mysterious and spooky
They're all together ooky
The Addams Family

According to, there have been 1,523 visits since May 27, 2008 to the "Green Acres'' lyrics compared to 1,318 during the same period for "Addams Family.'' But does that mean "Green Acres'' is more popular, or that more people already know the "Addams Family'' lyrics?

This one's simply too close to call.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hail the true king of rock 'n' roll

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis on this day in 1925 -- hail, hail the King of Rock 'n' Roll!!!

Many great black performers have influenced the landscape of American roots music, but few have had the impact Chuck Berry brought to the stage and recording studio.

He played wild electric guitar riffs and wrote catchy songs that became instant classics. Songs like "Maybellene'' -- which started the barrage way, way back in 1955 before anyone was calling it rock 'n' roll. Then came "Rock and Roll Music'' (it's got a backbeat, you can't lose it), "Brown Eyed Handsome Man,'' "Sweet Little Sixteen,'' "Johnny B. Goode'' and "Memphis.'' You could have hung your hat on any one of those and called it a career. Berry fired them all off.

And the world listened, among them some impressionable young musicians who would raise some hell themselves with electric guitars and rock music.

At Berry's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Induction in 1986, Keith Richards admitted: “It’s hard for me to induct Chuck Berry, because I lifted every lick he ever played!”

John Lennon once said: "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry."

Fittingly, Berry was part of the Hall's first official class of inductees, along with other black trailblazers like James Brown, Sam Cook, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Little Richard. (Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis and the Everly Brothers were also honored at the time.)

This may scare you, but to get me on the dance floor these days it's gotta be rock and roll music -- it's gotta be Chuck Berry music -- if you wanna dance with me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A deuce with some juice

The Allman Brothers never had a No. 1 song, and you can blame a tart named Cher.

After scoring her first chart-topper in 1971 with "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves'' Cher -- who had already outgrown Sonny Bono as a performing partner -- struck gold again with "Half-Breed'', Billboard's No. 1 song on this date in 1973. That's the song that kept the Allman classic "Ramblin' Man'' from reaching No. 1.

Gregg Allman would later pay Cher back by making her one of his six wives (though none of them concurrent). But that maneuver would provide little solace to Dicky Betts, who delivered one of the most famously recognizable southern rock licks in "Ramblin' Man'' (not to mention the distincitive vocals.)

You could say "Ramblin' Man'' deserved a better fate, but No. 2 wasn't bad for a reshuffling band that had lost its guitar-blazing heart (Duane Allman) and bass beat (Barry Oakley) less than 13 months apart in motorcycle accidents within three blocks of each other.

Lord I was born a ramblin man
Tryin' to make a livin' and doin the best I can
And when it's time for leavin
I hope you'll understand
That I was born a ramblin' man

My father was a gambler down in Georgia
He wound up on the wrong end of a gun
And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus
Rollin' down Highway 41

I'm on my way to New Orleans this mornin'
Leavin' out of Nashville Tennessee
They're always having a good time down on the bayou
Lord them delta women think the world of me

There hasn't been a time driving up and down U.S. 41 that I haven't thought of that song. I don't remember thinking of ''Half-Breed'' driving down any old road, in fact I don't remember it at all. But I'm sure it was special.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I went to Bakersfield last night

I miss the old Telecaster. Bought it at Rhythm City in Atlanta in 1981. She was a blonde, circa 1968, with a maple neck and a couple of hot pickups. (Not the one pictured here; mine had a white pickguard.) I never played it that much, didn't even have an amplifier to go with it for a few years. But just to pull her out of the case, plink around and imagine the possibilities...

Some cowboy who needed money had brought her into the store and walked out with a few bucks and a heavy heart. I know the feeling. She was one of the few that ever got away from me, and it still hurts.

I'm thinking about her today because last night I went back and listened to "Streets of Bakersfield.'' You want to hear a Telecaster sing? Go back and listen to Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. Owens and wingman Don Rich defined the Bakersfield sound with those twangy twin Telecasters. Talk about music to your ears.

Dwight Yoakam brought the song back -- brought Buck back with it -- and scored a No. 1 country hit in 1988. Yoakam and Brad Paisley are two notable Tele players who carried the Bakersfield torch after Buck's heyday. Of course Waylon Jennings played one, too, but he never wailed on it. Rock musicians? That's a whole different deal.

This is about the Bakerfield sound, and that brings to mind my personal favorite: Brian Hofeldt of the Derailers. I don't believe I've ever heard or seen anyone play twang Tele like him. Keith Urban -- who has the guitar, the looks AND the girl -- gets all the attention. But I would place Hofeldt in front of him. Listen to the Derailers, especially some of their earlier stuff.

I've never been to Bakersfield, but I went there again last night. I go there every time I hear a Telecaster sing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The grass isn't always greener

Barry McGuire has always said that "Eve of Destruction'' wasn't a protest song, and he wasn't angry at the world when he recorded it in 1965.

That didn't stop the hate mail from coming in, or the FBI from establishing a file on the singer. Some radio stations banned the song for its negative lyrics. But "Eve'' still made it to No. 1 on the charts, becoming McGuire's one and only solo hit.

"To me 'Eve' was, and still is, nothing more than a societal mirror, reflecting back at the world the hypocrisy of this present age,'' McGuire wrote in his blog. "Political hypocrisy, Industrial hypocrisy, Social hypocrisy, Spiritual hypocrisy. The song offers no answers, it just asks the questions and hopefully the listener will wake up and look around.''

McGuire, today a born-again Christian, had come up with the New Christy Minstrels, a folk group gushing with positive spirit, and for whom he wrote "Green, Green.'' He left after four years because of the conservative confines of the group. But he was not, and is not, an angry American.

He does, however, believe "Eve'' rings true today even moreso than it did 44 years ago. And it's hard to dispute that.

You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction
No no, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction

On a happier note, Barry turns 74 today. Happy birthday, man. And now back to our regularly scheduled doomsday message:

Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My kinda Guy, my kinda song

Guy Clark's still alive and kickin' and we can all be thankful for that.

He's got new album out on Dualtone that I'm just digging into, and at first blush it's a gem -- a much stronger effort than "Workbench Songs'' from 2006. I might just be getting weak in the knees, but after a few listens this one might even approach masterpiece status. While we're cogitatin' on that, here are the lyrics from one of the prime cuts, "The Guitar":

I was passing by a pawn shop in an older part of town
Something caught my eye; I stopped and turned around
I stepped inside and there I spied in the middle of it all
A beat up ol' guitar hanging on the wall

What do you want for that piece of junk? I asked the old man
He just smiled and took it down and put it in my hand
You tell me what it's worth you're the one who wants it
Tune it up, play a song, and let's just see what haunts it

So I hit a couple of chords in my country way of strummin'
And then my fingers turned to lightnin' I never heard it comin'
It was like I always knew it but I don't know where I learned it
It was nothin' but the truth so I just reared back and burned it

I lost all track of time -- there was nothin' I couldn't pick
Up and down the neck and I never missed a lick
The guitar almost played itself there was nothin' I could do
It was gettin' hard to tell just who was playin' who

When I finally put it down, I couldn't catch my breath
My hands were shakin' and I was scared to death
The old man finally got up and said where the hell you been
I've been waitin' all these years for you to stumble in

He took down an ol' dusty case and said go on and pack it up
You don't owe me nothin' and then he said good luck
There was somethin' spooky in his voice somethin' strange on his face
When he shut the lid, I saw my name was on the case

Damn. With a big assist to Verlon Thompson, who co-wrote the song and provides some righteous acoustic accompaniment. Yesterday we showered gushing praise on Paul Simon, who just turned 68, and along comes Guy Clark -- a mere 67 -- blazing new trails with "Somedays the Song Writes You.''

Two master storytellers, just hitting their prime. Two good reasons to hang around, to taste that well-aged wine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Still rhymin' after all these years

How great is Paul Simon?

Great enough to be one of our most beloved songwriters. Great enough at age 68 -- it's his birthday today -- to have amassed a catalog of music that is very nearly matchless in terms of productivity, diversity and pure sonic excellence.

If he has written a single mediocre song, I have yet to hear it. Almost every one is a treasure. Even the songs you wonder about at first, like "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard'', win you over eventually.

How do you measure that kind of excellence in song-writing? One way is to think about the songs for which you know the lyrics. If it's by Simon, you can probably do the rhymin'. I won't even start to list them, because I won't be able to stop.

Yet the song that often comes to mind when I think about Paul Simon was written by Brian Wilson. "Surfer Girl'', in fact, was the first song ever penned by Wilson as he was getting the Beach Boys wound up back in 1963. It was the song Simon chose to perform for "An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson'' at Radio City Music Hall in 2001. The concert was first broadcast on TNT and is available on DVD, which I highly recommend. But Simon's touching performance is just a click away below:

Simon did more than borrow a Brian Wilson song and run with it. He captured the purity and innocence of that incredible Beach Boys sound and harmoniously wrapped it around the tragic consequences of Wilson's life. It is beautiful, sad and poignant, and provides a benchmark for the term "tribute'' that can't reasonably be equaled.

That's how great Paul Simon is.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Nina, the Pinta and Lowell George

Columbus Day is a perfect time to salute one of the finest rock 'n' roll live albums of all time. Of course we're talking up Little Feat's sublime "Waiting for Columbus.''

Few were better at laying down boogie concert grooves than Lowell George, slide guitar meister and bluesy rhythm funkateer. "Waiting for Columbus'' showcased the band's jamming prowess and provided memorable romps through "Dixie Chicken'', "Fat Man in the Bathtub'' and the incomparable "Chillin'.''

I've never been a fan of "live'' albums. The energy from concert venues rarely translates, and many concert performances frankly aren't as good as studio cuts. "Waiting for Columbus'' is a notable exception, and there are others. I might as well rank them now to start an argument:

1. Allman Brothers, Fillmore East
2. Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison
3. Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus
4. Rolling Stones, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!
5. The Who, Live at Leeds

Exquisite exclusions: The Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense'' and the Band's "The Last Waltz'' were left off because I'm always touting them as the best rockumentaries ever and you're probably tired of hearing it. They are incredible concerts, but watch the DVDs and take advantage of film footage. Same goes for Roy Orbison's "Black and White Night.''

I'm told James Brown's "Live at the Apollo'' deserves to be at or near the top, but I've never heard it. If I were pressed to add another album based on my personal listening experience (what a concept!!!) it would be Cheap Trick's "Live at Budokan.'' I don't know how to defend that, other than to say I've always been fascinated by shrieking girls.

Shrieking hillbillies? BR-549's "Live at Robert's'' captures the boot kickin' spirit and fun of honky tonkin' along Nashville's Lower Broadway. It ain't rock 'n' roll, but I like it...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This would work in an elevator, too

I was listening to Justin Vernon this morning on the Black Cab Sessions. If you don't raise another finger today at least click on this.

There's hardly a better way to spend this Sunday. I mean listening to Vernon, aka Bon Iver, not driving around in a cab with a guitar. (Playing an acoustic in the back seat of a cab clipping past the National Gallery in London does sound delightful. But I think you have to be asked.)

Vernon is in town tonight at the Riverfront Theatre. Sounds like the tickets are long gone, but you never know with tickets. Maybe I'll check it out...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Makes me sing like a guitar hummin'

One thing that always bothered me about "The Last Waltz,'' the greatest rock concert ever filmed. Well it didn't really bother me as much as it just didn't make sense. And that was: What was Neil Diamond doing there?

Ronnie Hawkins made perfect sense. So did Bob Dylan. Both had deep connections to The Band. Nor could you argue with Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John or the Staples -- and all provided memorable guest performances. Especially the Staples doing "The Weight'' with the boys.

But Neil Diamond? The word is that Robbie Robertson wanted him, and that was that. That Diamond chose to sing "Dry Your Eyes'' -- what was that? -- only made things worse. He doomed himself with his introduction: "I'm only gonna do one song, but I'm gonna do it good." Dude, get off it!

The funny thing is, I came here today to praise Diamond. I just needed to get that off my chest.

The absolute truth: Diamond was a pretty good songwriter. And you couldn't really pick on his voice. It was his delivery that bothered people. Well, apparently that never bothered the women.

(I'm not writing him in past tense because he's dead. But he has pretty much gone away, hasn't he? Tell me he has.)

Diamond scored his first No. 1 song, "Cracklin' Rosie'', on this day in 1970. And despite the ridiculously corny lead-in music, it was not a bad song. I get a little squeamish around overtly pop-ified songs, but the lyrics to "Rosie'' are anything but that. It's a song about a guy who doesn't get a girl so he settles for a cheap bottle of wine.

Oh, I love my Rosie child
You got the way to make me happy
You and me, we go in style
Cracklin Rose, you're a store bought woman
You make me sing like a guitar hummin'
So hang on to me, girl
Our song keeps runnin on

Play it now
Play it now, my baby

Now who among you hasn't been alone with a dreadful bottle of wine? Hell, I'm alone with one right now! (Couldn't you tell?)

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that my buddy Neil was one helluva songwriter. "Kentucky Woman'' rocks! "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show'' is way underrated! Where would the Monkees have been without Neil's "I'm a Believer''? On the last train to Clarksville, that's where!

Nevertheless, he had no business taking the stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco that night. No damn business at all. What were they thinking?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Something about a Libra...

It wouldn't have been a crummy band. Not at all. Assembling a group from the musicians born on this day -- October 9 -- might even have yielded a minor hit or two.

The players:

John Lennon, songwriter, singer, guitar (1940): Imagine...

John Entwistle, bass, french horn (1944): Who? We're talkin' about My Generation...

Jeannie C. Riley, singer (1945): If we could just get her out of that P.T.A. meeting at Harper Valley...

Jackson Browne, songwriter, singer (1948): Doctor, his eyes have seen the years ...

Gary Bennett, guitarist, singer (1964): BR-549 was never the same after he left and the band dropped the hyphen ...

P.J. Harvey, guitar, piano, keyboards, bass, harp, violin, cello, percussion, harmonica (1969): Uh huh, her... (I never got caught up in the Polly Jean thing, but Rolling Stone was clearly impressed: Two of her albums are ranked among the 500 greatest of all time.)

Speaking of which: Add two Top 500s for Lennon (and nine more for the Beatles -- including 4 of the top 10), six for the Who and three for Billy Joel, and you can the potential. Jeannie C. and Bennett? It's a twang thing...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Say goodbye to He died a quick death today, without warning.

I'm sorry you had to learn about my email account this way. At least if you're reading this you know how to communicate with me. That's because you knew where to look to check on me. Others will not. There might even be some important business that falls through the cracks. I don't know, I'm still shaking my head about the whole deal.

I loved that email address. It was my identity for eight years. I tried to secure but it was taken. So was Bummer.

So that's what I went with.

Shoot me an email so we can catch up. And steer clear of Verizon. They rob you blind and then they throw you under the train.

Give it up to the Christians and Jews

The rights to the song were sold to help pay for Chet Powers' legal defense. The charge? Marijuana possession. It's true, people used to have to sneak around with their pot.

"Let's Get Together'' was recorded by a number of groups, beginning with the Kingston Trio and including We Five ("You Were On My Mind'') and Jefferson Airplane. But the version we remember is "Get Together'' released by the Youngbloods in 1967.

The song never charted higher than No. 62 in its first go-around. But thanks to the
National Conference of Christians and Jews, which pushed it into the mainstream in a public service announcement, it went out as a single in 1969 and rose to No. 5. It struck gold on this date 40 years ago.

What a wonderful jingly, jangly tune.

Love is but the song we sing,
And fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the dove is on the wing
And you need not know why

C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now

Some will come and some will go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moments sunlight
Fading in the grass

C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now

If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at your command

C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Right now
Right now

Eight years ago today the U.S. began its invasion of Afghanistan with Operation Enduring Freedom. C'mon people now...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ode to an iPod

How important is music in our lives?

My buddy Robert is 7,500 miles from home these days. It's not easy to get that far from family and friends, but there he is, in Abu Dhabi, working for a newspaper. That's what he does for a living, that's what many of us did before the world changed and our secure careers and futures vanished like newsprint in a flash fire.

Robert spent a year literally searching the world over for employment. Then it happened. One day he's sipping beers at The Albert, his favorite neighborhood haunt, the next thing you know he's editing stories in the Persian Gulf. What do you think that's been like?

Robert provides a glimpse in emails, text messages and occasional phone conversations, but I don't think it's possible to really know and understand his new world without being there. On thing, though, to which his note below attests. Music, the thread that holds us all together, is the baling wire in his survival kit.

Ode to the iPod

When you're feeling like a stranger in a strange land, when you feel
alone in the middle of city of a million and a half people and it
seems not one of them is the least little bit like you, there's
nothing that brings you home like music from home.

Not the popular classics from rock and roll, country and pop legends.
You might hear those anywhere here. There's something a little
unsettling about catching a ride from a toothless Pakistani cab driver
who's tapping his fingers to Sweet Home Alabama as he barrels down
Sheikh Zayed The First Street. (Nothing against toothless Pakistanis,
of course, or even Lynrd Skynrd, but ... well, you know what I'm

But what really brings you home, what calms your fears and cools your
brow and eases your pain, is the music that's on your iPod, the music
you believe belongs only to you and that tight circle of friends, both
known and unknown, who share the same slightly-off-the-beaten-path

Put the iPod on shuffle and let it flow, from Albert King to Lucinda
Williams to Fred Eaglesmith to Steve Earle to Shawn Mullins ... I
swear, when Pieta Brown launches into Sonic Boom, I don't know whether
to curl up and cry or jump up and dance ... to Blue Mountain to Kim
Richey to James McMurtry to Susan Tedeschi to Uncle Tupelo and on and
on, and after a while things don't seem so bad.

There's not much here to remind a lonely expat of home. But music
travels easy these days. Board a plane in Atlanta with an iPod Nano
tucked in your shirt pocket and a Logitech player in the corner of
your suitcase, and that's all it takes to bring a couple of thousand
of your favorite tunes halfway around the world. Thank heaven for

Local boy makes good

I wanna reach out and grab ya

Did "Abracadra'' seem like No. 1 material to you?

It was, of course. So was "The Joker'' in which Steve Miller spoke of the pompitous of love. And "Rockin' Me'' -- a three-chord romp whose intro could've been my battle cry for 15 months:

Well I've been lookin' real hard and I'm tryin' to find a job
But it just keeps gettin' tougher every day

You really have to tip your hat to Steve Miller. Nothing sounded the same, but everything sounded like him. And it may have seemed TOO poppy and commercial, but you know something? It was pretty good.

He grew up in Texas and carved out his niche fronting blues bands in San Francisco and Chicago, but Miller -- who turns 66 today -- is a home boy, tried and true.

That's right, born right here in Milwaukee, even had Les Paul as his godfather and first guitar tutor. Now how do you top that? He was a bluesman who crossed over into pop-rock and when he finally hit the mainstream, damn, there were few who did better.

I found this acoustic clip of "The Joker'' and it's worth checking out. Happy birthday, Space Cowboy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Remembering the Pearl

Earlier this year I recalled my introduction to Janis Joplin on the anniversary of "Bobby McGee'' reaching No. 1 on the charts.

(Turns out that party took place just a few miles down the road in Madison, which is once again my capitol city and a place called "Madtown'' with great affection. Weird how things work out sometimes, isn't it?)

Today we acknowledge the anniversary of Joplin's death, coming just two weeks in 1970 after the death of Jimi Hendrix. It's impossible, even after all these years, to fully comprehend the imprint these two incredible artists made in the turbulent times during which their music gurgled up and shot into the cultural maelstrom.

It was a crazy time. "Sex, drugs and rock & roll'' wasn't just a slogan, and there's no need to go into greater detail.

Joplin, whether she was high, straight or somewhere in between, brought incredible spirit to every song she ever performed. The favorites, like "Bobby McGee'' and the gut-wrenching "Piece of my Heart,'' never get tired, no matter how many listens.

My favorite flavor today, though, is "Down on Me.'' I heard it the other day and it's still in my head. Here's a funky clip from a studio stage performance.

Down on me, down on me,
Looks like everybody in this whole round world
They’re down on me

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Make mine Mayberry

There are people who look at me goofy when I make mention of the Andy Griffith Show. Don't they get it?

Don't they understand the cultural significance of the program? Don't they get the goofy humor, the revealing life lessons and the quaint depiciton of simple American life that made the show one of the most popular and successful in TV history?

Here's something fun to do when company's over: Turn on the TV and keep flipping stations until you find an episode of Andy (and you can almost always find one). Then just start watching. You'll find out immediately if your guests are with you, or again' you. And that's good information to have.

The Andy Griffith Show debuted on this day in 1960 and eight years later, in its final season, it ranked No. 1 among TV viewers. And I'll bet you a slice of Aunt Bea's blueberry pie that it's still one of the most popular shows in syndication.

In a 2004 issue of the Journal of Popular Culture, writer Don Rodney Vaughn attempted to explain why The Andy Griffith Show was so popular -- and why it is significant in cultural studies. He wrote:

Mayberry is like the eye of the hurricane, a place of tranquility in a world of anything but that. Mayberry's problems and stressors were anything but the problems and stressors that most faced in the 1960s: unemployment, overcoming obstacles to voter registration, the quest for civil rights as Americans, sons fighting in a no-cause war, the uneasiness over the risk of nuclear war--the list could go on. Had the writers reflected the happenings in the real world, the show would have likely bottomed out in the ratings. Instead, it offered an avenue of escape from life's vicissitudes by depicting the simple life with small, solvable problems.

Can you find a show like that on TV today? Only in syndication.

If my DVD player was hooked up this morning I'd sit down and watch the first episode -- with a bowl of Post Grape-Nuts, of course. (Say, do they still make Crispy Critters?) Maybe I'd even watch the entire first season.

Or maybe I'll just whistle "The Fishin' Hole'' intro song until the next episode airs.