Sunday, November 29, 2009

Long may they run (and they did run long)

This was so long ago that it was described as the band's (first) Reunion Tour. The members had surprisingly broken up in 1970 and gone their separate ways in what turned out was only their initial wave of separation. Who figured any band from this era would last long enough to be reunited more than once?

Here's how Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone magazine set up that first reunion concert in 1974:

Minutes after Crosby, Stills and Nash and then Young, hit the stage in Seattle for the first concert of their reunion tour, it was clear that no other group ever had a chance of replacing them while they were apart - not America, not Bread, not Poco, not the Eagles, not Seals and Crofts or Loggins and Messina or Souther, Hillman and Furay. Not even Manassas or the reunion of the original Byrds.

It's been four years since the last tour, and each of the principals has gone through weighty changes. But onstage, you can hardly tell. The 1969 Woodstock language is still there; Crosby is still the group mouth; Nash the gentle presence; Stills and Young the fabled guitar stars. And although a couple of the voices have measurably changed, the meat of the group is still the high vocal harmonies.

Asked if the band reunited for the money that would flow in for this ambitious summer tour (30 concerts in 40 days), David Crosby -- who probably needed cash the most -- provided the best answer: "It's the best goddamned music any of us has ever played - and we all know it."

Sometime during that summer of '74 we caught a show. My buddy Doc Holliday and I, and a couple of girlfriends, drove down to Milwaukee for the band's stop at County Stadium. This would prove to be the biggest reunion staged at the ballpark until the following spring, when a former Brave by the name of Henry Aaron returned to close out his Hall of Fame career as a Milwaukee Brewer.

Details are sketchy. It was a warm summer afternoon/evening -- as good as you could ask for in this part of the country. No freezing temps, no burning tires, no godawful muck like Charles Walston detailed in his recent '69 Stones concert flashback. Just a lot of peaceful smoke drifting through the stadium. (There were plenty of uniformed police patroling the stadium, but no vigilantes. Nobody seemed worried about these fans getting out of hand.)

There was a mad rush for the ground seats in front of the stage once the gates opened, and it was then that I tripped over something that would serve us that day, and become a memorable artifact of my fleeting youth: A hand-carved wooden hash pipe with a twisting stem and an ample bowl (with wire mesh) that appeared to be just broken in. Someone in that crowd of 50,000 fans must have been at least momentarily bumbed.

Now C, S, N & Y certainly didn't need a supporting cast for this now-legendary tour, but it is not a shitty memory at all to report that preceding them on the stage were the Beach Boys. This was the closest many of us would get to the beach that summer, so we rocked along with the first wave. There also was a brief appearance by Jesse Colin Young, who if memory serves launched a couple songs from his "Songbird" album before its 1975 release. He provided the perfect buzz for the other Young, who ultimately would steal the evening.

I love(d) the group and its songs and vocal harmonies, but when it came time to get down and dirty it wasn't going to be "Guinnevere'' or something from the Deja Vu album. It was going to be Neil Young launching into "Ohio" or another of his gritty rock-outs.

Here is the set list, which I took off Young's website:

Love The One You're With
Wooden Ships
Immigration Man
Cowgirl In The Sand
Black Queen
On The Way Home
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Helplessly Hoping
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
The Lee Shore
Simple Man
Prison Song
Long May You Run
The Needle And The Damage Done
Change Partners
You Can't Catch Me
Word Game
Don't Be Denied
First Things First
Deja Vu
My Angel
Pre Road Downs
Long Time Gone
Military Madness
Revolution Blues
Pushed It Over The End
Carry On
Walk On

Thirty-three songs, are you shitting me? After two other acts had preceded them? No wonder I don't remember much. C, S, N &Y reportedly "loosely" worked on 44 songs at Young's ranch in California before launching the tour, and the debut show Fong-Torres chronicled lasted 3 1/2 hours. So they had trimmed it down somewhat by the time they reached Milwaukee in late July.

Years later, during yet another C, S, N & Y reunion tour (must have been 2000 -- the year, not the reunion number) I took a young niece to the Times Forum in Tampa to see them. My niece wasn't too familiar with the band or its individual parts, so I did what I could by playing most of my Neil Young CDs for her in advance of the show.

We came out of the Forum that night after a great show, and my niece turned to me and said: "Uncle Jim, the guy you like really took over the show didn't he?"

Yes he did. It was Deja Vu all over again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In defense of Randy Newman

His satirical songs are often taken the wrong way -- isn't that what satire is all about?

But Randy Newman can write lyrics and songs and musical scores. Did you know he set an Academy Award record for 15 nominations without a win? And then he finally got an Oscar, in 2001 for a song from Monsters Inc., and he began his acceptance speech with: "I don't want your pity!"

And he probably didn't. But let's shower a little on him today, along with kudos, because today Randy Newman hits the big sixty-six.

As a performing artist -- where many of us would notice his work -- he never gained widespsread popularity. A sardonic voice at a piano has never been a proven formula for creating mass appeal. But some of his music is grand. It didn't seem that "Louisiana 1927" got discovered until Hurricane Katrina struck, but it had been around since 1974. "Burn On" didn't catch fire until it became the perfect hook for the movie Major League.

"Short People", well, he's right. They got no reason to live.

"In Defense of Our Country," which closes with the following verse, proves that Randy Newman can still bring it:

The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free

Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let's give Black Friday a new meaning

Somebody was remarking yesterday that "Black Friday" is a really stupid name (not to mention a very frustrating -- even dangerous -- experience for most participants). I know my little sister's out there shopping right now, and I love her and wish her the very best. But I couldn't agree more.

But bashing well-meaning shoppers who are doing their part to repair our nation's sagging economy isn't going to get us anywhere. So I have an idea, which I'm certain you have already figured out ...

Rather than bagging Black Friday altogether, why not turn it into an annual celebration (with some requisite commercialism, of course). I would go to a record store today to buy the latest Johnny Cash compilation. I'd maybe even purchase a poster, photo or T-shirt of the Man in Black. Hell, if there weren't so many zany shoppers dodging each other on the roadways and in the crowded stores and malls I'd go out there right this minute.

A national holiday for Johnny Cash. Think about it. Who is more deserving?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can you top this show?

The best concert experience you've ever had. Think about that today because it's something you almost certainly would want to give thanks for. It just may not bubble immediately to the surface on Thanksgiving Day.

There are so many other things for which we're giving a thankful nod: the bountiful food we're about to eat, friendships and family and our many small fortunes, a good-paying job in this mean ol' world, a Packers victory over the Lions. The important stuff.

Rock concerts? Second tier on this day, perhaps, but right up there when we count up the good times at the end of our days. Charles Walston jump-started this subject with a flashback he wrote for about a memorable 1969 Rolling Stones concert. I'm giving the stage to his great story today. Let's continue the conversation soon.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An evening with Carey Ott

I'm heading up to Whitehall, Wisconsin, tonight to hear Carey Ott at the Alternative Ground.

Now this is a pretty big deal because a) Carey is an actual recording artist from Nashville; b) Whitehall (pop. 1,560) hasn't had a show worth talking about since the Probes were playing upstairs at City Hall in 1969; and C) plenty of family will be there.

I'm not altogether sure about b). There probably have been a few talented stragglers come through the Hub in the past 40 years that I missed because I was out fighting in the Great Newspaper Wars. But the truth is, my old hometown has never had a venue that might attract a real talent. Unless, of course, you consider the beer tent at the annual Beef & Dairy Days celebration to be a star magnet. The Alternative Ground is at least a coffee shop, and a damn fine one at that. Songwriters love coffee shops.

And Carey Ott is a very talented songwriter and musician. I've known this for some time, but haven't mentioned it before because, well, he happens to be my niece's boyfriend. And there used to be a tenet known as journalistic integrity which, among other things, prevented a writer from covering events or subjects for which he had a rooting interest. And I'm definitely rooting for Carey Ott.

And now that we've dispensed with that formality, it should be safe to promise one of the best shows that Whitehall has seen since my brother-in-law Mike was playing bass guitar in the Probes.

I hope everybody can make it. If you can't, check out Carey's myspace page at:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you

We all know that love is more elusive than a butterfly, but nobody had put it into those words until a 23-year-old folk balladeer penned a song in 1966 that was pressed by the ill-fated World Pacific Records. It was a pretty good song, a fine song, making it to No. 5 on the Billboard chart. But where did it get Bob Lind?

We had to check. A search of the artist's website shows he's still live and kicking out the music. He closed out a European tour in September at the Hanbury Club in Brighton, England, and most recently appeared at the Broward Folk Club in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

It being Lind's birthday and all -- happy 65th! -- we thought we'd share those sweet lyrics today. Supposedly "Butterfly" was cut as a B side to "Cheryl's Goin' Home" but that might just be wackipedia talking. Anyway, here it is unabridged, with the chord progression: C/Dm/G7/C/Dm/G7/Dm/G7/C(easy!)

Now go chase down that fleeting shadow...

You might wake up some mornin'
To the sound of something moving past your window in the wind
And if you're quick enough to rise
You'll catch a fleeting glimpse of someone's fading shadow
Out on the new horizon
You may see the floating motion of a distant pair of wings
And if the sleep has left your ears
You might hear footsteps running through an open meadow

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing somethin' I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love

You might have heard my footsteps
Echo softly in the distance through the canyons of your mind
I might have even called your name
As I ran searching after something to believe in
You might have seen me runnin'
Through the long-abandoned ruins of the dreams you left behind
If you remember something there
That glided past you followed close by heavy breathin'

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing somethin' I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love

Monday, November 23, 2009

You think you've been everywhere

I always thought it would be fun to sing along with "I've Been Everywhere," the song Hank Snow took to No. 1 way back in 1962 and Johnny Cash had plenty of fun with (you've probably heard it on the oft-played TV commercial). Ever try to sink your teeth into these lyrics?

I was totin' my pack along a dusty Winnemucca road
When along came a semi with a high canvas covered load
'If you're going to Winnemucca, Mac with me you can ride'
So I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand
And I said, [break] 'Listen, Bud I've traveled every road in this here

I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere, man
'Cross the deserts bare, man, I've breathed the mountain air, man
Of travel, I've had my share, man, I've been everywhere

I been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow,
Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma
Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocopilla, Barranquilla, and
Padilla, I'm a killer

Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana, Washington, Houston, Kingston,
Monterey, Ferraday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa, Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little
Rock, Oskaloosa
Tennessee, Hennessey, Chicopee, Spirit Lake, Grand Lake, Devil Lake,
Crater Lake, for Pete's sake; (to Chorus)

Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Ombabika, Shefferville, Jacksonville,
Waterville, Costa Rica
Pittsfield, Springfield, Bakersfield, Shreveport, Hackensack, Cadillac,
Fond Du Lac, Davenport
Idaho, Jellicoe, Pickle Cros, Argentina, Diamontina, Pasadena, Catalina,
see what I mean, (to next verse)

Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravellburg, Colorado, Ellensburg, Rexburg,
Vicksburg, Eldorado
Larrimore, Atmore, Haverstraw, Chattanika, Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska,
Baraboo, Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge
City, what a pity

No, I can't do this. What a pity. But I have been through Opelika. How about you?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How many of these do you have?

Here they are, the top-rated albums of 2009 (so far) at, just in time for Christmas shopping:

1. Live At Reading, Nirvana 96
2. Live In London, Leonard Cohen 91
3. Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective 89
4. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, Raekwon 88
5. American Saturday Night, Brad Paisley 86
6. Monoliths & Dimensions, Sunn O))) 86
7. Welcome To Mali, Amadou & Mariam 86
8. Hospice, The Antlers 86
9. Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear 85
10. Journal For Plague Lovers, Manic Street Preachers 85
11. Wind's Poem, Mount Eerie 85
12. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors 85
13. Revolution, Miranda Lambert 85
14. Axe To Fall, Converge 85

What to the scores mean? According to the website's "short summary" which I've condensed:

"Each album is assigned a METASCORE®, which is a weighted average of all of the scores assigned by individual critics to that movie, game, book or album. METASCORES range from 0-100, with higher scores indicating better overall reviews, and lower scores indicating less favorable reviews from critics. The METASCORE is considered a weighted average because we assign more significance, or weight, to some critics and publications than we do to others, based on the overall stature and quality of those critics and publications. In addition, for music and movies, we also normalize the resulting scores (akin to "grading on a curve" in college), which prevents scores from clumping together."

In other words, a fail-safe method of ranking the year's best!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Look who's playing this birthday bash

Wow -- we've got a Birthday Band for you today.

SSS's occasional feature (when we've got absolutely nothin!) only asks you to consider the possibilities of a band that could have been assembled with artists born on this day.

Duane Allman (1946), lead/slide guitar: Well, we pretty much nailed it already. Anybody else is puddin'.
June Christy (1925), vocals: A mainstay with the Stan Kenton band, she would have given Allman a chance to stretch the limits on "My Heart Belongs to Only You.''
Tony Butala (1940), vocals: One of the Lettermen. Can't hurt you, might help you -- especially if you're playing a sock hop.
Norman Greenbaum (1942), vocals: He's gonna set us up with the Spirit in the Sky. (Did you know he wrote that after watching Porter Wagoner perform a gospel song on TV?)
Joe Walsh (1947), guitar, vocals: Forget the Eagles, we want the energy and sound he brought to the James Gang.

We could add Jimmy Brown (1957) of UB40 for drums, but who needs 'em? Same for Mike D (1965), a rapper for the Beastie Boys.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

They must have seen me coming

It was almost on cue. A week after I landed in Wauwatosa, a guitar store relocated on North Avenue, just a few blocks from my street. It's called North Star Music. Can you dig it?

I stopped by yesterday after work to check it out. (I had put my nose up to the window recently to see the progress being made inside, but this was my maiden voyage inside.) There weren't many vintage instruments, which is a good thing. I don't need another vintage guitar. It's mostly new electrics and acoustics, ukes and mandos, and a few resonators -- which always intrigue me.

But other than a new set of strings or a miscellaneous accessory, there's probably nothing I really need there. Except this: Another soul who likes to talk about music and guitars. The value in that, as they say, is priceless.

So I'll be back. Maybe I'll bring a guitar in for a set-up, just to start a conversation. And a dog treat for the pooch who hangs out behind the counter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Have you written your list?

What has it been like growing up the oldest daughter of Johnny Cash? You don't know, and neither do I. Only Rosanne Cash knows.

And I hope her daddy is smiling at her now after her latest effort to bring some of Johnny's favorite songs back to life. As the story goes, and maybe you've heard it, Johnny was disappointed early in his daughter's life for what he perceived was her lack of respect for country music.

Hoping to instill in her a stronger regard for the deep musical roots that guided his life and career, he compiled for her a list of "100 Essential Country Songs" he thought she should know and learn.

As she writes in Rosanne's Blog: "It could have easily been called '100 Essential AMERICAN Songs', as the list covered every critical juncture in Roots music, from early Folk songs, protest songs, history songs, Appalachian, Southern blues and Delta bottomland songs, to Gospel and modern Country music. This list is not only a personal legacy, but I have come to realize it is also a cultural legacy, as important to who we are as Americans as the Civil War, or the Rocky Mountains."

Eleven of the songs appear on "The List'', her new album, which opens with Bill Halley's "Miss the Mississippi and You" (from Crystal Gayle's 1979 album):

I'm growing tired of the big city lights
Tired of the glamour and tired of the sights
In all my dreams I am roaming once more
Back to my home on the old river shore

I am sad and weary far away from home
Miss the Mississippi and you dear
Days are dark and dreary everywhere I roam
Miss the Mississippi and you

Roaming the wide world over
Always along and blue, so blue
Nothing seems to cheer me under heaven's dome
Miss the Mississippi and you

Who wouldn't want his daughter to know that one?

Perhaps a more important question, one posed by Rosanne herself: What list are you sharing with your family or friends? Something to think about...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

He made us feel a whole lot better

I don't know Allison Anders, and never will. But she wrote something about Gene Clark that I wanted to share today.

Clark was a founding member of the Byrds, by anyone's estimation a fabulous blend of artists from the get-go: Clark, Chris Hillman, Roger (Jim) McGuinn and David Crosby. You could stack them up against just about anything that came down the pike during Clark's tenure in 1964-66.

Clark was tragically overlooked, in part because of his brief stay and the deep talent within the group, notably McGuinn and the jangly 12-string Rickenbacker that made them famous; but also because the band's biggest hit during that period was not a Clark-penned song, but a Dylan cover ("Mr. Tambourine Man.)"

But it's never too late to give a man his due. And I doubt it could be said any better than the words Allison wrote for a MySpace page:

I know most people coming to this page are already well versed in who Gene Clark was, what he did, and the brave, delicate, rich talent he was. Instead of writing a biography of Gene, I thought I'd let people who knew him and those influenced by him speak here.

I came to Gene both early and late. I was a fan of The Byrds from the beginning, even tho I was just a little girl of 10 when I heard my first Byrds record. I was madly in love, like most of us, with "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better". My mom was a working divorcee and would leave money for my sister and I to go to the local burger joint for dinner, as well as some quarters for the jukebox. I played that song to death! I remained a fierce Byrds fan but wasn't really much aware of Gene's solo work.

It was a decade ago when a man I was dating turned me onto Gene's work. I fell completely in love with these beautiful songs, and their lonely and longing quality which were so deeply set in an American landscape. Gene Clark's songs are the ultimate American road movie.

Clark had some issues. I don't know if that made him a great songwriter, or if he rose above his problems long enough to write terrific songs, like "Eight Miles High" and "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "She Don't Care About Time.''

You may never have heard "In a Misty Morning," which includes this passage:

The fog rolled in and the lights grew dimmer
And the sound of the city streets seemed amplified
In the misty morning when it had just been pouring
Like the clouds above the storm just had to cry
Like the clouds above the storm just had to cry

Gene Clark. Gone since 1991. He would have been 68 today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sixteen tons, here's what you get

Has anybody ever nailed a song like Tennessee Ernie Ford nailed "Sixteen Tons''?

I don't think so. You would have thought he just emerged from a gritty mine with coal rubbings all over his face. That booming baritone did seem to come from someplace deep in the ground.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

America loved it. A lot. No song had risen to the top of the music chart faster than "Sixteen Tons'' which made it on this day in 1955 after just three weeks. It stayed there two months.

Merle Travis had written the song in 1946 and put it on his album "Folk Songs of the Hills.'' Other singers took turns at it, but it was Ford's deep voice -- along with that signature finger snap -- that gave the song its power and cadence. Here's how Ford explained the surprising success of "Sixteen Tons'' in a 1957 Saturday Evening Post interview:

They liked Sixteen Tons, all right, at Capitol, when I brought it over and suggested that they record it, but nobody threw a fit over it. Nobody said, "We're glad you brought this along because it's sure to sell a million copies in twenty-one days.'' Thcy didn't say that because anybody in his right mind knew that wouldn't happen. Yet that's exactly what did happen.

Nobody did it better than Ernie, bless his pea pickin' heart, but it was cool to find an old hayseed clip of Travis picking it, so that's what we're sharing now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A requiem for MacArthur Park

We took up the worst-ever song conversation earlier here, and it's really impressive to note how much this site has matured since then. Who could have imagined that SSS would now praise "MacArthur Park'' after what we put it through?

It's the anniversary of Donna Summer's disco hit, which rose to No. 1 on this very day in 1978. And we have a little treat for you today if you'll just hold on for a bit.

The problem with the song was Richard Harris, an actor who had no business tackling the song. Jimmy Webb's lyrics -- except for the fatal cake in the rain passage -- may be as good as anything he ever wrote. As Charles pointed out, Webb himself offered a passable version of the song (though I've not heard it).

But it definitely could have used a different melody. It's amazing to see how many artists have covered the song without bringing anything new to it. Maybe the just loved the lyrics and thought they could salvage the tune.

Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants

Believe it or not, the song somehow made it to the karaoke circuit. And that's our treat for you today. Sing along with Donna now:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When you gotta go, you gotta go

I was staring at a glass last night -- the lovely and talented Cricket just kept bringing them -- and this thought came to me: How many more of these before my mind moves from its wonderfully mirthful state to something less charming, like sad and self pitying?

And that's the wonder of beer. Not hard liquor, which can flat-out maim your brain. Beer, especially the garden variety made famous in Milwaukee, allows you to watch the cresendo build. When you get dialed in on beer you can almost count the hops as you go.

Which became my problem last night. I was counting hops, and doing a pretty good job, but I wasn't sure how many more hops I had to go before I had to go. It would have been a perfect time to get up, head over to the juke box and punch in "There Stands the Glass.'' But this wasn't 1953, the year Webb Pierce turned that weeper into a honky tonk classic. And the beer wasn't a nickel a glass.

Cricket, ever alert, noticed my empty glass and gave me an inquiring look. I nodded. One more, I thought, and I'm outa here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stay out of my room

Apparently George Jones got a little uppity about Taylor Swift winning the CMA Entertainer of the Year award.

Which is unfortunate, because I'm sure 'ol George was making a point. But does anybody really care who wins a CMA, or any other country music award, other than the winners and losers? They hand these out like candy at the Memorial Day parade.

Wynonna Judd was a little hurt, too, but I don't think I need to diagram that for you.

Here's a truth: Country hasn't been country for years. And "old country'' -- the Possum's domain -- is as safe as durable as granny's lye soap. It'll always be there to wash away the troubles of the day. Whatever they're manufacturing these days in Nashville, or New York, or L.A., is just that. They probably shouldn't call it country, because it just pisses off the old guard. But you don't have to buy into it. You don't even have to care.

Here's how easy it is to let something like a Taylor Swift slip by without noticing or caring. The first time I heard the name, and for quite a while after that, I thought she was a he, or maybe even multiple performers, like Montgomery Gentry (and I once thought 'they' were a 'he'). The only time I've ever seen Swift was on a morning news program (I was at Midas getting an oil change so I just sat there and watched. It was pandemonium.) Her name never comes up and her music never gets played on the satellite stations I listen to.

And if I ever decide I want to listen, it sure won't be hard to find her.

We all pretty much build our own personal music listening rooms. And we build them so we don't have to put up with the distractions on the outside.

Go away.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everybody knows this is impossible

What's your favorite Neil Young song?

Now there's a tough one. Might be the toughest question ever posed on SSS. Young's catalog is so deep and impressive it's impossible to single out one song. One album might not even be possible. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere? Harvest? Comes a Time? After the Gold Rush? Rust Never Sleeps?

Just start putting 'em on and playing them today because it's Young's 64th birthday. Maybe before the end of the night it'll come to you.

Young's early stuff is really difficult to beat. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere -- just his second album -- holds at least three possibilities: "Cowgirl in the Sand,'' "Cinnamon Girl'' and "Down by the River'' Supposedly he wrote all three, one after another, with a 103-degree fever.

There's been a lot of fabulous stuff through the years, not all of it suitable for this discussion but memorable in some way or another. But I don't think I can get past that album. Nope, it's got to be off that seven-song LP in 1969 featuring Young and Danny Whitten's incredible electric guitar work.

It's definitely from that album, it sure is ... and I'm thinking it goes like this:

Hello cowgirl in the sand
Is this place at your command
Can I stay here for a while
Can I see your sweet sweet smile
Old enough now to change your name
When so many love you is it the same?
It's the woman in you
that makes you want to play this game

Top that. I dare you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meet that XCleaver

Tom Tiedjens stopped by Tuesday after work with a busted 12-pack of Miller High Life and two CDs. I think I found a new friend.

Tom T. isn't completely new to my new world. I became familiar with his music back in the Eighties when he was fronting the Milwaukee punk band Those XCleavers. But I had never met the guy, who was "Just Tryin' to Have Fun'' with raucous club-dancing rants like "U Try 2 Hard'', "Nice Legs, Shame About the Face'' and "Smooth, Wild & Dirty.''

Not until a week ago did I meet the wily Norwegian when he and a buddy showed up to help me move into my new upper flat in Wauwatosa. A few beers were hoisted at the time, but it seemed a bit too much like work.

Yesterday was better, but we still had to drink and talk too fast. He had to pick up his girl from dance class. Life has changed for the old punk rocker, who still gets down on the bass guitar but has no regular outlet for his music. Marriage, a growing child and a full-time job can alter anyone's perspective on life, not to mention their musical direction. There's talk of getting the boys together next spring, and let's hope it happens.

Meanwhile, Tom T. has taken the time to put together a "Retrospective'' CD, including the very first song he wrote in his parents' basement too many years ago, "4 Chord Shit.''

For a taste of Those XCleavers, who call their music a blend of "post punk, new wave and ska,'' click here. Looks like they still have a pretty strong pack following.

I'd never steer you wrong. This is good shit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The witch of November came stealin'...

I mentioned hearing a stirring rendition of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" the other night. It was mentioned at the time that the anniversary of the boat's sinking was fast approaching. And so it was.

On this date in 1975 the Fitz went down in the roiling waters of Lake Superior. Here's a link to the boat and its history.

Lightfoot has never won a Grammy, but may have come closest for "Wreck'', which was nominated in 1977 for Song of the Year. (It lost out to "I Write the Songs'', written by Bruce Johnston and performed by Barry Manilow.)

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
T'was the witch of November come stealin'
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the Gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya
At seven p.m. a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it's been good t'know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours
The searches all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
May have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Monday, November 9, 2009

And the wall came tumbling down

If you have U2's "Achtung Baby" put it in your player now and read on...

I love the Atlanta Journal, or what is left of it. I was proud to work for a Southern newspaper that "Covers Dixie Like the Dew.'' Alas, the Journal years ago melted into its morning counterpart, the Constitution, and the combined edition simply goes by AJC. At least they're still putting a sheet out.

In November of 1989 the "evening'' Journal was still trying to attract afternoon readers, and to that end it would run bold banner headlines on its front page to entice newsstand buyers. Rarely were there any significant updates from the morning Constitution; it was more a reshuffling of content.

On the morning of Nov. 9, 1989 -- 20 years ago today -- as production editors were girding for the Journal's street edition, a military plane crashed into an apartment complex north of Atlanta. As I recall, the pilot parachuted to safety and there were no deaths on the ground, just a fiery crash captured by an alert AJC photojournalist.

The photo -- an impressive image of the burning complex -- occupied the top half of the Journal's cover, along with a screaming double-decker headline about the crash.

One problem: There was a significant world event unfolding in Europe. The Berlin Wall was coming down.

I was working in the sports department that morning and wasn't aware of any news discussions that took place. No doubt there was a major conversation involving Local vs. World. All I remember is that even though the world won a monumental victory that day, World lost out to Local in the Journal. Stripped above the masthead -- giving it the best ride it could given the crash play -- was this "streamer" type:


Symbolically at least, communism and newspapers were all but finished.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Raise a pint for Dublin O'Shea

I went to see an Irish band last night and a shipwreck broke out. Isn't it always like that?

A couple of guys at work moonlight in Dublin O'Shea, a fine and merry group of music makers who are Saturday night regulars on the Milwaukee pub circuit. Me and another colleague caught them at the Delafield Brewhaus while quaffing Bloody Marys and pints of Hoppy Holidays.

We were only heeding the band's suggestion that "the more you drink the better we sound.'' Which is always good advice when it comes to Irish music. (What they don't mention is -- and here is another pub truism -- the more THEY drink the better they PLAY.)

Not that they don't do just fine before the pints start spilling. Featuring a traditional lineup of guitar, mandolin, fiddle and percussion, they frolic through tales of drinking, lust and seafaring misfortune. With stirring vocals and furious strumming they even managed to put some bounce into the Gordon Lightfoot classic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.''

Another gem they usually save for later in the night when the women and children have left -- well, at least the children -- is "Debauchery'' about a drunken ferry boat woman and five bottles of wine.

Dublin O'Shea reminds us that we shouldn't wait for St. Paddy's Day to get our Celtic music fix. It's there for us every weekend. Good times waiting to happen.

You can check out Dublin O'Shea by clicking here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How's the boss treating you these days?

Remember puppy love?

I do. The year was 1987, the musical venue was the Met Center in Bloomington, Minn., and the show was Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love'' tour. The Boss had it bad, not me. But I forgive him.

How else to explain that album and that tour, which represented a strange time in Springsteen's life and career. The show was, like, weird. Surreal. The props, the music, the whole night just seemed so out of character for Springsteen. No doubt I had been spoiled three years earlier by two smoking back-to-back "Born in the U.S.A.'' concerts at the Omni in Atlanta -- possibly the best live shows I will ever hear and see.

Hard to imagine that "Tunnel of Love'' made it to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. But there it was, on this date in 1987. A commercial success. Artistic? Not so much. And it took Springsteen time to cleanse himself. After five years without another album he would release "Human Touch'' and "Lucky Town'' in 1992.

People were beginning to wonder. Not diehard fans, whose devotion is admirable but also blinding, but others who wondered what the big fuss had been about. And within that camp are some who claim he has never returned to his "Born in the U.S.A.'' form.

Record sales and rankings really don't mean that much (what do record buyers and critics know anyway?) But it's interesting to view the numbers. If you believe them, you have to say the Boss -- while veering in different musical directions -- eventually got his game back. You might even claim he never lost it.

A chronological list of his albums and their respective Billboard ranking:

1973: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. #60
1973: The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle #59
1975: Born to Run #3
1978: Darkness on the Edge of Town #5
1980: The River #1
1982: Nebraska #3
1984: Born in the U.S.A. #1
1987: Tunnel of Love #1
1992: Human Touch #2
1992: Lucky Town #3
1995: The Ghost of Tom Joad #11
2002: The Rising #1
2005: Devils & Dust #1
2006: We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions #3
2007: Magic #1
2009: Working on a Dream #1

The point of this? Gee, I don't know. Puppy love sucks?

Friday, November 6, 2009

A souvenir from the Fifties

See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sunrise from a tropic isle
Just remember darling all the while
You belong to me

One of the greatest songs ever recorded reached No. 1 at this time in 1952. At least "You Belong to Me" is one of my favorites. I even suggested it be played at a niece's wedding, but it seems the kids never heard of it. Not even Patsy Cline's cover, much less the Sue Thompson original.

See the market place in old Algiers
Send me photographs and souvenirs
Just remember when a dream appears
You belong to me

Cline had a fabulous version, and Patti Page covered it as well, but I don't think either topped Jo Stafford's classic, which became the first song by a female vocalist to go No. 1 in the UK. Dean Martin also recorded it in 1952, and that record made it No. 12. Obviously songwriters Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart and Chilton Price had a winner on their hands.

Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it's wet with rain
Just remember till you're home again
You belong to me

Taylor Swift had the audacity to write her own song with that title. I haven't heard it, but I suppose that's more likely to be played at a wedding these days than anything from the tired old Fifties, from which I can't seem to escape.

My luck.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happy birthday to them

They were born on this day, November 5, so they are Scorpios all. And if you could have put them together in the recording studio with Billy Sherrill -- a birthday boy himself -- you probably would have had something.

What, I'm not exactly sure. But something.

Yes, it's time again to play Birthday Band, an occasional SSS feature that is mindless but also quite harmless. We hope you've been paying attention because there might be a quiz at the end of the year.

Roy Rogers (1911): Cowboy guitar, backup vocals
Ike Turner (1931): Electric guitar, piano
Art Garfunkel (1941): Vocals
Gram Parsons (1946): Guitar, vocals
Peter Noone (1947): Vocals
Bryan Adams (1959): Guitar, vocals

"Rocket 88"
"Cuts Like a Knife"
"Sin City"
"I'm Into Something Good"
"There'll Never Be Another Pecos Bill"
"Feelin' Groovy"
"Six Days on the Road"
"Can't You Hear My Heartbeat"
"My Chickasay Gal"
"Lonely Nights"
"I Want to Take You Higher"
"Burrito #1"

(medley) "Ooh Las Vegas", "In My Hour of Darkness'', "Hickory Wind"
"There's a Kind of Hush"
"Happy Trails to You"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

No question about it

You, too, can have a No. 1 song. It can happen to anyone. It really can.

Write a catchy riff for a Vox Continental, create a bit of mystery with a band name, and back it up with sunglasses you never take off. I wouldn't think it necessary to shave the hair off your chest. Your call.

On this date in 1966, ? (Question Mark) & the Mysterians of Flint, Mich., by way of Mexico, took "96 Tears'' to the top of the charts. Some call them the original punk band, but that's just foolish talk. See for yourself:

You shouldn't need any more inspiration than that. If you do, check out the rest of Billboard's Top 5:

1. 96 Tears, ? & the Mysterians
2. Last Train to Clarksville, Monkees
3. Reach Out I'll be There, Four Tops
4. Poor Side of Town, Johnny Rivers
5. Walk Away Renee, Left Banke

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fresh signs of the apocalypse

A local radio station on Monday night asked listeners to name their favorite song of all-time. A non-commercial, listener-supported station, mind you. Here are some of the honest-to-goodness responses:

Today, Smashing Pumpkins
Father and Son, Cat Stevens
Going to California, Led Zeppelin
Tie the Rope, The Format

Your single favorite song of all time, folks! Try harder!

The Gardner, The Tallest Man on Earth
Walk, Pantera
Me'Shell, Ndegeocello
Peace Train, Cat Stevens
Mayonnaise, Smashing Pumpkins

Milwaukee, I beg of you!

Because, Dave Clark Five
Complete Control, The Clash
What's Going On, Marvin Gaye
Many Rivers to Cross, Jimmy Cliff

Well, at least I've heard those...

Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division
The Underdog, Spoon

Never mind...

Monday, November 2, 2009

A presidential beg your pardon

Jimmy Carter was elected President on this day in 1976.

Well he said 'I'd never lie to you' and what's more he never did
Though the times grew mighty tough he never flipped his lid
So shake the hand of the man with a hand full of love
The one and only Jimmy Carter

It's one of those hidden gems. Blue Mountain's album Dog Days is a beautiful patchwork quilt of Americana music, with rollicking made-for-the-road tunes like "Mountain Girl'' and "Blue Canoe'' and "Soul Sister.''

And the first time you hear "Jimmy Carter'' you might very well go ... huh? I know I did. Maybe the first few listens. But it grows on you. It certainly wasn't fashionable to write anything positive about Jimmy Carter while he was President of these United States. Sing his praises? I don't think so.

But the man became a cool cat once he was run out of office. I remember running into him outside the Omni in Atlanta. This would have been about 1989 -- nearly a decade after his one and lonely term in the White House. And he looked so good, you know? Tan skin, hair in place, happy smile. A true ambassador to the world.

And all I could think of saying to the 39th President of the United States, was: "Hey Jimmy!''

And he said "Hello!'' back. And there wasn't a Secret Service agent in sight.
I believe I could have stood there and had a conversation with him, but it just happened so fast, and before you knew it I was inside and he had caught his ride.

I never shook the hand of the man with a hand full of love.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sacrilege in Cheeseland

Game face on? I've got my game heart on -- right on my green shirt sleeve, where you can always find it on football Sundays.

Robert: Tell me they aren't hyping the Vikings-Packers in Abu Dhabi, where the game must kick off at, what, 11:15 p.m.? Is it even being televised in the Middle East?

Psycho: Vikings fans don't really LIKE Brett Favre, do they? How is that possible, after hating him all these years? They've got Adrian Peterson, the best back on the planet, yet they're parading around in purple No. 4 jerseys -- worshipping the biggest nemesis they've ever known. There's something wrong with that mentality. Something we learned in Sunday school about worshipping false idols...

Charles: Since when is a game from the NFC's North Division bigger than the Giants-Eagles on the East Coast?

Matt: What's your Bear-blooded take on this one? You want Favre to punk the Packers, right? But then the Vikings will be on a runaway train to the Super Bowl, won't they? I don't think you can win this one.

No matter where you are, you have not been able to escape the endless chatter and buildup surrounding Favre's return to Lambeau Field. Imagine being right here in Wisconsin, close to Ground Zero. To write any more would be to contribute to the hype. Thanks for that extra hour, though. The media has been taking full advantage.

I just wanted to make sure you to know where I stand on this...