Sunday, February 28, 2010

Let's go honky tonkin'

Well I'm a honky tonk man and I can't seem to stop
I love to give the girls a whirl to the music of an old juke box
But when my money's all gone, I'm on the telephone singing
Hey, hey, mama can your daddy come home

Dwight Yoakam's twangy "Honky Tonk Man" will get those boots tapping. If you see it listed on a juke box you're going to punch it in. Released as a single off Yoakam's 1986 debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., it reached No. 3 on the country charts and still receives heavy play on radio stations and juke boxes.

But we always aim to give credit where it's due. "Honky Tonk Man" was written and recorded first by Johnny Horton. Now Horton, who is remembered more for "saga" songs like "The Battle of New Orleans," had some rockabilly in his bones. He died tragically at age 35 before the world knew what he was truly capable of accomplishing. His song, featuring Hank Garland's nifty guitar, was actually released twice: in 1956, when it reached No. 9, and two years after his death (No. 11).

Digging even deeper: You may not know of Al Dexter, but he deserves a respectful mention in any conversation about honky tonk music. On this date in 1946 Dexter was flyin' high with "Guitar Polka," which for 15 memorable post-war weeks was the most-played "juke box folk record" in America.

Maybe you have heard "Pistol Packin' Mama"? That's Dexter's, too. It's a shame it got watered down by Bing Crosby's more famous version, but you can't argue with the results. In his first recording session in 1936 Dexter laid down "Honky Tonk Blues," which is believed to be the first reference to the term. Talk about burying the lead. All of this information is bound to win you a bar argument some day, or at least keep you in the running on Trivia Night.

After searching for the most appropriate clip the Sanctuary settled on a German-dubbed intro to Clint Eastwood's "Honkytonk Man" from that fine 1982 movie. Enjoy...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dropped my notebook, this fell out

Clearing up the Carly Confusion: Only because the Sanctuary referenced it awhile back: Carly Simon says her 1972 hit "You're So Vain" was actually about ... David Geffen. The record label kingpin was not on our multiple choice list, which included Kris Kristofferson, Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, James Taylor, Hugh Hefner and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently Simon didn't appreciate the fact that Geffen was giving more attention to labelmate Joni Mitchell's albums. Who really cares 38 years later? Simon, who's promoting a new album. ...

Last year's top music money makers, according to billboard. (Tour income is largely responsible):
1. U2, $108 million
2. Bruce Springsteen, $57 million
3. Madonna, $47 million
4. AC/DC, $43 million
5. Britney Spears, $38 million

I just read where the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation has built more than 150 units of affordable housing in the past three years, and the artist is scheduling visits to shelters during his current tour. Which makes me curious to know what other artists -- well beyond the "We Are The World" project -- are doing for charitable causes. ...

The Billboard Top 5 25 years ago today:
1. Carless Whisper, Wham!
2. I Want to Know What Love Is, Foreigner
3. Easy Lover, Philip Bailey
4. Lover Boy, Billy Ocean
5. Method of Modern Love, Hall & Oates

I'm thinking this was about the time I shut off my radio for good. Then I'm reminded that 1985 did have its musical moments, including these stellar albums: Scarecrow by John Mellencamp, Centerfield by John Fogerty, and Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. And you could still get them in vinyl ...

Break out the candles for today's Birthday Band:
Guy Mitchell (1927-99): Singer, "Heartaches by the Number"
Eddie Gray (1948): Guitar, Tommy James & the Shondells
Neal Schon (1954): Guitar, Santana
Adrian Smith (1957): Guitar, Iron Maiden

I'd be stealing a DJ's words if I said the Dave Rawlings Machine's 2009 album A Friend of a Friend "is a flat-out must-own record." So call me a thief...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Not fade away

True Johnny Cash fans, the ones who've been around longer than Rick Rubin's six-album American series, they know what we've got here. They've known it for some time.

They may have known it since back in 1956 when Cash helped put Sun Records on the map with his first No. 1 hit "I Walk the Line." They may have figured it out in 1963 when "Ring of Fire" with its blaring mariachi trumpets was tearing up the airwaves. They certainly got it by 1969 when Live at San Quentin became the biggest thing that happened on this earth (the moon landing, after all, happened on the moon.)

Even if you were younger and didn't follow the legend as it grew from the renegade fringes, you had plenty of opportunities to board the train. And if you had a lick of musical sensibilities, or even if you just liked freight trains or the sound of boom-chicka-boom, you were on board long before the American series came our way.

One of the greatest upsets in entertainment history: Johnny Cash got his own network television show. And on it, with his beloved wife, sidekick and soul mate June Carter Cash beside him, he welcomed artists like Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Tammy Wynette. It was a good show. But if you had followed Johnny Cash back in the barnstorming days with the Tennessee Three you might have said "No way" to that notion, not because he wasn't a great performer but because you didn't think he would be universally accepted. Or maybe, because he spoke directly to you, you didn't want that connection to be shared on national TV. Which is petty but true.

The fact is Johnny Cash cultivated his Man in Black image by writing and performing songs about prison, murder, bad asses and bad fortune. And it sold because there was something about him that was as certain as the sunrise, even if was hidden behind a menacing black cloud. And then he got that TV show and people learned there was a lot more to the man than they had imagined. A whole lot more. He had more humility than just about any performer they had seen, more spirituality than a church full of phony preachers, and a basic human goodness that belied his rough-hewn personality, with that scarred jaw and those deep-set eyes.

It's true a lot of people didn't discover Johnny Cash until very late in the game. Some didn't know or understand the story until Joaquin Phoenix burnished it on the silver screen. Some didn't appreciate his music until industrial rockers began doing covers of his songs, or he began doing covers of theirs. The poignant video for "Hurt" -- a Nine Inch Nails song -- brought in legions of new fans. Gothic losers, who would've gotten behind Jesus if he had worn a black T-shirt, who couldn't recite a Johnny Cash lyric sheet if it was attached to their wallet chain, were smitten by his image. For all reasons, some right and some misbegotten, the train got pretty full before it left the station. But every one of them was welcome. And some people got off, and that was alright too.

None of it diminishes his legacy. Nor do the American series recordings. On the contrary, Johnny Cash in his last, painfully difficult days provided a vivid picture of personal suffering, an open window from which to view his final work, which was not always exceptional. But it was real. Some of us flinched, and others turned away because it wasn't pretty or easy to watch.

Final chapters are not always happy endings, but you can't finish a book without them. If you haven't heard "The Man Comes Around" from American IV you never received the fiery jolt that was meant for you, that he wanted you to hear. If you haven't listened to "For the Good Times" from American VI you haven't given yourself a chance to feel as sad and lonesome as a man can be. Those are raw, powerful emotions, and Johnny Cash wore them on his sleeve for all to see.

With the release of American VI we are finally, sadly and mercifully at the end of his recordings. The catalog is complete. "Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog" and "Ain't No Grave" are as different as night and day, as distant as life and death, but they belong to the same man. And today, on his birthday, we ought to play them both, and a whole bunch in between.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One last goodbye

I had said my goodbyes to Johnny Cash with American IV: The Man Comes Around, and now here we are eight years and two albums later. American VI: Ain't No Grave, released this week to coincide with Johnny's 78th birthday, is the final chapter in the series and, at first listen, it's a fitting close.

I never believed any subsequent work could top the stark beauty of American IV, which sounded and felt like the end of the line, but we'll see. Each successive album seems to elevate his stature, if that is possible. There is only one Cash-penned song on American VI, which is neither here nor there, just more carefully-chosen covers. As we mentioned in Now Playing, "For the Good Times" is a beautiful tear-rendering gem.

The final song Cash wrote, "Like the 309," would have seemed a perfect ending for Ain't No Grave, but appeared on the penultimate album. We'll make sure it receives more than a footnote by posting the lyrics now:

It should be a while before I see Dr. Death
So it would sure be nice if I could get my breath
Well I'm not the crying nor the whining kind
'Till I hear the whistle of the 309

Of the 309, of the 309
Put me in my box on the 309

Take me to the depot, put me to bed
Blow an electric fan on my gnarly old head
Everybody take a look, see I'm doing fine
Then load my box on the 309

On the 309, on the 309
Put me in my box on the 309

Hey sweet baby, kiss me hard
Draw my bath water, sweep my yard
Give a drink of my wine to my Jersey cow
I wouldn't give a hootin' hell for my journey now

On the 309, on the 309

I hear the sound of a railroad train
The whistle blows and I'm gone again
It will take me higher than a Georgia pine
Stand back children, it's a 309

It's a 309, it's a 309
Put me in my box on the 309

A chicken in the pot and turkey in the corn
Ain't felt this good since jubilee morn
Talk about luck, well I got mine
As me comin' down like a 309

Write me a letter, sing me a song
Tell me all about it, what I did wrong
Meanwhile I will be doing fine
Then load my box on the 309

On the 309, on the 309
Goin' to get out of here on the 309

Tomorrow we have a birthday to celebrate. Be sure to wear something black.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sailing in my old Datsun

Do you remember where you were at this time in 1981? I was in St. Petersburg, Florida, working at the old Evening Independent and awaiting another glorious month of spring training. By fall I would be headed for the big leagues, the Atlanta Journal, where the afternoon newspaper covered "Dixie Like the Dew."

But in late February I was digging my life and career in St. Pete. I was driving an old Datsun that had been shipped back to the States from Hawaii. It had a surf scene "mural" painted in acrylic across the weathered dash and the electric windows had died somewhere between open and shut. Nobody else would have bought this car. I didn't pay much.

It was the perfect transportation for Florida, at least during spring before the rains came. It was the car I drove up and down the coast, between Pass-a-Grille and Clearwater, chasing down fishing stories for the Independent. If the whiting were biting at Redington Long Pier, or the trout were holed up under the Johns Pass Bridge, I'd be there in no time to chronicle the action.

The radio in the Datsun didn't work, and the cassette player played only one tape: the one that had become lodged in there months earlier. It was Christopher Cross, and don't laugh because the music spoke to me at the time. You had to have been there, and I know some of you were and still wouldn't agree. But you weren't tooling up and down the coast in my blue bomb.

It's not far down to paradise
At least it's not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

I didn't have a boat, much less a sailboat to test the gulf breezes, but I used to watch the sails closely from various perches at watering spots along the beach. I almost bought a catamaran, but it couldn't get me to work in downtown St. Pete from my landlocked home in Kenneth City. (What a shame, to be living in paradise and have to call Kenneth City home.)

On this night in 1981 Christoper Cross won five Grammys, and to this day only Norah Jones among solo artists has matched him by sweeping the Big Four: best record, song, album, and new artist. This must have made my Datsun with the cassette tape stuck in the player worth at least a couple bucks more, though I don't remember using that as a bargaining chip when I traded it in a few months later.

I realize now there was a reason, bigger than I can explain, why that tape was stuck in my player. There was also a reason the front windows were stuck half open, and that one is easy: to let those gulf breezes whip through my blue bomb.

Like the man sang: Ride like the wind, to be free again.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reconsidering Jackson Browne

Call me Rip Van Strumbum: I just stumbled across this video of Jackson Browne performing "Here," which he wrote for the movie Shrink. Maybe you've seen the flick (I haven't), watched the video or heard the song. Other than the artist's dust-up with John McCain and the Republican National Committee for filching "Running On Empty" in 2008 I hadn't been paying much attention, yet...

Browne has always been an artist with a cause, not necessarily his own, which separates him from the pack. His political views and causes never seemed to get in the way of his work. And his longevity, which is now impressive, is even more inspiring when you consider his consistently excellent catalog of music.

It's been a long time since "Doctor My Eyes." For those of you who weren't around in 1972 let me just say he was a welcome sight on the music scene. His early albums were excellent: Jackson Browne, For Everyman, Late for the Sky, The Pretender -- one of the best ever -- Hold Out, Lawyers in Love, Lives in the Balance ... I lost track after those. It happens.

But Browne has never stopped, and now after watching that video maybe it's time to fill in some blanks. A good place to start might be Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2007, three years after his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The dude is 61 and still bringing it. It's possible I'm the only one who wasn't paying attention.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The biggest kick we ever got

I remember when rock was young.

Wait, somebody already took that line. As if you didn't know, it's from the song that ruled the Billboard chart on this date in 1973. I remember it playing on the jukebox in the old Walgert Hotel Tap Room.

You know how songs can bring you back to a certain place? This one takes me back to the Tap Room, a beer haven on the corner of Main and Scranton in my old hometown. It's an empty lot now, and every time I drive by I think: We ought to build another Tap Room right on that same corner and make it just like it used to be.

Crazy thought.

It's easy to slip back into yesterday, especially when today holds so little promise and tomorrow is too frightening to imagine. It's not all bad, romanticizing our past, as long as we don't get stuck there. And there's the rub.

I never knew me a better time
And I guess I never will

The Beatles had come and gone long before "Crocodile Rock" became Elton John's first No. 1 hit in America. He'd have another one 14 months later with "Bennie and the Jets," followed by the Lennon-McCartney penned "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" in early 1975. Now these may not have been drinking songs, but we sang them all and butchered every one of them, especially "Bennie, Bennie, Bennie..." From sober to drunk, from baritone to falsetto, in six beers flat.

For the record, here was the Billboard Top 5 this week in 1973:

1. Crocodile Rock, Elton John
2. You're So Vain, Carly Simon
3. Superstition, Stevie Wonder
4. Why Can't We Live Together, Timmy Thomas
5. Your Momma Don't Dance, Loggins & Messina

The biggest kick we ever got was singin' a song called the "Crocodile Rock." Let's make sure it's on the jukebox in the new Tap Room.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here come the Altar Boys

Good morning, the Reverend got off his stage pulpit long enough to email from the road and I thought I'd pass along some good news:

Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys have been nominated for best blues band, and two of the boys have earned individual nominations as well: Big Al Groth for best horn/brass instrument and Bobby Sellers for best drummer.

These are People's Choice Awards -- the best kind, if you ask me -- for the Wisconsin Area Music Industry. Now WAMI may sound like small potatoes, but in a very indirect way it helps buy strings for the Reverend's Ephiphone guitar, reeds for Al's sax and sticks for Bobby. As well as other deserving artists who play their hearts out for little publicity or compensation.

The Reverend's not asking for donations, just a little ballot support. Click here to read the ballot and cast a vote for your favorite Badgerland band and players.

"We won last year thanks to you and it does help our resume so please vote no matter who you choose to vote for," says the Reverend. Well put.

The Chain Smoking Altar Boys completed their Florida tour and they're heading back north after a night at the Shed Barbeque in Mobile, Ala. Here's the band's "home" schedule:

Feb. 24: Morton's Inn, Cedarburg, 6:30pm
Feb. 25: The Milwaukee Ale House, Milwaukee, 7 p.m.
Feb. 26: Mamie's, Milwaukee, 9:30pm
Feb. 27: The Painted Parrot, West Allis, 9 p.m.
Mar. 3: Knights of Columbus* 1820 S. 92nd St., Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
Mar. 6: The Delafield Brewhaus, Delafield, 9:30 p.m.
*The Jump & Jive Club's Friday Night Swing Dance

Catch 'em if you're in the neighborhood before they head back out for 16 days in the Virgin Islands. "Somebody has got to do it," concedes the Reverend, "so we've elected ourselves to represent Wisconsin in the islands again this year."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Here comes another downer

The word's been out there for some time that Hollywood is planning to produce a movie about Kurt Cobain. I'm not sure what you think of that idea, but please chime in if you care one way or the other. Me, I'm not into sifting through the ashes of another tortured soul who kills himself. These are always so depressing.

In other words: Nevermind.

Here's Exhibit A, and because these are always so convincing you won't need an Exhibit B. (No, it's not the note to the right -- that's Cobain's "farewell" message). Below is the penultimate paragraph from Roger Ebert's review of "The Doors" (1991) which was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Val Kilmer as our hero Jim Morrison (of course you knew that).

The experience of watching "The Doors" is not always very pleasant. There are the songs, of course, and some electrifying concert moments, but mostly there is the mournful, self-pitying descent of this young man into selfish and boring stupor. Having seen this movie, I am not sad to have missed the opportunity to meet Jim Morrison, and I can think of few fates more painful than being part of his support system. The last hour of the film, in particular, is a dirge of wretched excess, of drunken would-be orgies and obnoxious behavior, of concerts in which the audiences wait for hours for the spectacle of Morrison stumbling onstage to fake a few songs or, notoriously, to expose himself.

Now Cobain wasn't wretched excess on stage, but his tragic story has the same pathetic ending. He can't cope with his demons, he dies too young, and the damage is self-inflicted. It won't matter which Oscar-winning screenwriter or director is chosen, the message will be full of static and the ending will suck.

There's also the possibility someone will weave together a compelling cautionary tale about Cobain, blending some powerful music and maybe even classic concert footage and we'll walk out of the theatre saying "Man, I never really knew him but I sure do miss that guy and his music." We'll probably find out soon enough which way it goes.

If we must have another music biopic, how about choosing someone who has some longevity, who might even still be alive making significant contributions to his/her art. Someone like Neil Young or, if you must have a punkish image to work with, Lou Reed. Now there's one that could be shot in black and white.

Or if there must tragic consequences with a tombstone at the end, how about taking another stab at Hank Williams? We have Paul Hemphill's revealing biography "Lovesick Blues" to draw from, and a new pool of actors that will no longer include George Hamilton.

The only reason I bring this up today: It's Kurt Cobain's birthday. He would have 43, but instead he has been deceased for 16 years. May he rest in peace, at least until they bring him back to life on the big screen.

We could have assembled a pretty strong Birthday Band today but now we're all tuckered out. Still, you can imagine the possibilities yourself:

Nancy Wilson (1937): Vocals
Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941): Vocals
Jerome Geils (1946): Guitar, J. Geils Band
Walter Becker (1950): Guitar, Steely Dan
Randy California (1951-97): Guitar, Spirit
Kurt Cobain (1967-94): guitar, vocals, Nirvana

Friday, February 19, 2010

PSSST: Wait no longer for Greg Brown

We have a lame reason for not featuring Greg Brown previously as a PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout): We couldn't decide among several deserving albums to put up on the board. But we can't wait any longer because the Iowa troubadour is back on tour soon and we need to get primed for one of his shows.

And we want to make sure you know what you'd be missing.

You may have heard Brown years ago on Prairie Home Companion, or you might have stumbled across him on the FM airwaves singing blues, country, folk or probably some mixture funneled through that incredible baritone voice. There's also a possibility you've never heard him before, which would be a damn shame -- and the reason we're not waiting another day.

Plus, we've already featured his daughter Pieta as PSSST No. 9. (Now don't be accusing us of putting the caboose before the engine.)

We're choosing Covenant, a sterling 2000 release produced by Bo Ramsey that showcases Brown's deft songwriting skills and impressive depth and, like a favorite bottle of single malt, tastes better every time you uncork it. It could've been Dream Cafe (1992), the Poet Game (1994), Slant 6 Mind (1997), Milk of the Moon (2002) or Evening Call (2006). They all reside in the SSS library and find a way into the rotation from time to time.

We're going to add an audio clip but for now here's the final verse from "Waiting On You," not nearly our favorite song from Covenant (that might be "Pretty One More Time" or "Walkin' Daddy" or "Rex Roth's Daughter" or the road trip classic "Blue Car." You see how difficult this is?) "Waiting On You" just happens to be playing at this particular minute, and the message is as crisp and clear as Brown's acoustic guitar:

One of these days I'm gonna go away from this
Without a why without a cry without a kiss
Then you'll know what it is with this deal
Then you'll feel what it is that I feel
And even if you don't
At least I won't
Be waiting on you

If you've ever been waiting on anybody, and we all have, you know how it feels.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is there a Doc in the house?

How important is it to have a strong band anchoring your late night show?

We wonder now that Kevin Eubanks is reportedly leaving Jay Leno to pursue career options that include recording and touring. (Hard to imagine he couldn't have fit recording into his schedule, but touring definitely would have been a challenge. Still, don't you agree he looks a bit like a rat on a sinking ship?)

The funniest man on late night, Craig Ferguson, has no band at all. Maybe we should find him a guitarist. David Letterman has Paul Shaffer, leader of "the world's most dangerous band," but could you name the other members? Conan O'Brien had perhaps the best known musician among the performers in Max Weinberg, but the E Street Band drummer worked the kits and seemed to struggle with comedic interaction.

And that's really what these musicians are all about. Shaffer is a foil for Letterman's jokes, just as Eubanks has been for Leno. Eubanks may be one of the best guitarists on the planet (does anybody know how good he is? Every song sounds the same) but I'll remember him for his Philadelphia Eagles jerseys and caps, and the big smile and laugh that Leno used to pull off his monologue.

I miss Doc Severinsen, who not only played a mean trumpet (and I believe toured on occasion while under contract to NBC) but had a great personality that Johnny Carson knew how to mine. The clip above is one of the funniest examples of spontaneous humor you'll ever see between a host and his musical leader. It's certainly nothing that could be duplicated by any of today's comedians and their sidemen.

What would you be looking for if you were Leno, who has some ground to recover in his return to late night where Letterman is now king? We're talking about NBC here, so we'll be surprised if they have a clue or a plan. But what an opportunity if you're willing to try something completely different.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cutting rock down to size: Timbre!

In his fascinating book "This Is Your Brain On Music" author Daniel J. Levitin tells the story of a distinguished scientist and researcher who enjoyed a vast understanding of music and sound but never invested time learning about rock 'n' roll.

The scientist, John R. Pierce (who also wrote science fiction under the pseudonym J.J. Coupling), asked Levitin to play for him six songs "that captured all that was important to know" about rock 'n' roll.

What a deliciously daunting assignment. How in the world would you go about compiling that list? As Levitin admitted, he wasn't certain he could select six songs that would aptly sum up the Beatles. The task got only slightly easier when Pierce told Levitin it wouldn't be necessary to include Elvis Presley, whom the scientist had heard.

No doubt these men clicked on a cerebral level we won't attempt to match or even emulate in the Sanctuary, where rogue neurons travel through at their own risk. We can assume that Levitin at least understood the parameters, and thereby had a starting point from which to winnow the voluminous encylopedia of rock.

Here were the songs Levitin chose:

1. Long Tall Sally, Little Richard (pictured)
2. Roll Over Beethoven, Beatles
3. All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix
4. Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton
5. Little Red Corvette, Prince
6. Anarchy in the U.K., Sex Pistols

Those are six representative songs, but I'm sure each of us would select different ones based on our own musical sensibilities and listening experiences. There's probably no right or wrong to it. It is interesting that two of the songs are covers, albeit fabulous ones. And maybe Levitin is on to something here. If you select six kick-ass covers, you'd essentially have 12 artists or bands represented on your list.

What Pierce learned from the experiment is that rock music is defined by timbre, which the author describes as "tonal color" that "distinguishes one instrument from another when both are playing the same written note."

Or, in SSSspeak, find a drummer, bassist, lead guitarist and rhythm player and you have yourself a rock 'n' roll band.

Here are six songs we'd want to share with anyone who might have missed the rock 'n' roll revolution. We don't know what Pierce would make of them, but we're pretty sure tiny green space men would be dancing around and playing air guitar:

1. Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry
2. Summertime Blues, Eddie Cochran
3. Sympathy for the Devil, Rolling Stones
4. Layla, Derek & the Dominoes
5. Revolution, Beatles
6. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

The thing to remember is a list like this would have to change every day because rock 'n' roll doesn't stand still for anyone or anything. I already wish I had a good southern rocker on there. Quick, somebody request "Free Bird"...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

He had the Knack

It's time to bury the "Nuke the Knack" T-shirts. Doug Fieger, the songwriter, rhythm guitarist and creative force behind one of America's most reviled bands, is dead at age 57. The cause was lung cancer.

Six String Sanctuary defended the Knack last August on the 30th anniversary of "My Sharona" ruling the Billboard chart for six weeks. To read that post click here.

Although we weren't big fans of the Knack, we'd show our support today as we did back then by sporting a skinny tie...if we could only find one. We never quite understood the backlash Fieger and his mates endured after helping usher in the new wave era with a song about teenage lust.

In a 2003 interview with Detroit Free Press pop music critic Brian McCollum, the Michigan-born rocker explained the origin of "My Sharona" and the Knack's other notable hit "Good Girls Don't" (which made it to No. 11):

I had this girlfriend that I was living with. We'd started living together in Detroit when we were 15. She lived with me and my parents at my parents' house. I stayed out here (in L.A.) when Sky broke up, and she came out here and we started living together here, for another eight years. She started working as a hairdresser, and she met this young girl named Sharona, who had worked at a children's clothing store across the street from her hairdressing salon.

She introduced me to her, and I instantly fell in love. I'd been living with Judy for a long time, and loved her, but I fell in love with this girl. We broke up and I moved out. We're very good friends to this day.

That's how it happened. I chased her. Most of the songs on the first and second Knack albums were written about her. There was a song on the first album called 'Good Girls Don't' about a girl I'd met in Oak Park, at Clinton Junior High School, named Bobbie Ernstein. She was there for two years, and then she moved to St. Louis. She actually said those words to me: "Good girls don't, but I do."

Most guys would die to hear a line like that. Fieger heard it -- in junior high! -- and reacted years later with a catchy song you couldn't help but sing along to. Now what was so wrong about that?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prettiest song we've ever seen

Dream on, dream on teenage queen
Prettiest girl we've ever seen ...

"Ballad of a Teenage Queen" was the No. 1 song on the country chart on this day in 1958. Imagine that.

Many of you weren't born and the rest of us, damn, we were 52 years younger. One of those already alive and kicking was legendary Cowboy Jack Clement, who is old enough to have worked the mixing boards at Sun Records back when Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were in their fermentation stages.

With history like that you can imagine the stories that come out of the Cowboy's mouth, and he tells 'em as good as anybody. In fact we thought we'd try track down the maverick writer/artist/producer today and see what he has to say about "Ballad of a Teenage Queen."

In the meantime, here were the songs -- in succession -- that made it to the top of the country chart during '58. It was a memorable year for Cowboy, who also wrote Cash's other No. 1 song "Guess Things Happen That Way."

1. The Story of My Life, Marty Robbins
2. Great Balls of Fire, Jerry Lee Lewis
3. Ballad of a Teenage Queen, Johnny Cash
4. Oh Lonesome Me, Don Gibson
5. Just Married, Marty Robbins
6. All I Have to Do is Dream, Everly Brothers
7. Guess Things Happen That Way, Johnny Cash
8. Alone with You, Faron Young
9. Blue Blue Day, Don Gibson
10. Bird Dog, Everly Brothers
11. City Lights, Ray Price

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I (heart) this music

Today is Valentine's Day and there's really not much more for me to say, other than: Happy Birthday, Zachman. My son turns 25 today and I hope he gets off that destroyer in Pearl Harbor long enough to hoist a cold one.

You know the drill. If you didn't happen to think of the mood music, there is still time for that. Even if you're not in a relationship, your pet will appreciate you switching off the head-banger music for a day. Even goldfish are known to respond positively (not sure how, other than air bubbles) to music.

If you don't have pets then think about your plants, which also dig a good vibe. I swear my Norfolk pine did a lean toward the speakers yesterday after I put Ben Webster in the player.

(Click on the image above to discover what's on tap today.)

Here are 10 songs playing today at the Sanctuary that are in some way connected to the heart. Some are about love, and others speak to yearning and lust, or love lost. SSS, after all, is reality-based blogging. Take this verse from "Milk of the Moon" by Greg Brown:

I'm drunk on moonmilk, I'm high up in the air
Oh, woman, you are silk there and there and there
With a kiss you wake me up, you always leave too soon
As you go will you fill my cup with the milk of the moon?

That woman is gone, but what sweet residue.

1. Valentine's Day, Steve Earle
2. Two-Fisted Love, Phoebe Snow
3. Love is a Rose, Neil Young
4. My Funny Valentine, Chet Baker
5. God Only Knows, Beach Boys
6. Pretty Please, Blue Mountain
7. Let's Stay Together, Al Green
8. Real Love, Lucinda Williams
9. Milk of the Moon, Greg Brown
10. Baby You Got to Choose, Randy Weeks

Saturday, February 13, 2010

k.d.lang + leonard cohen = hallelujah

I knew there was a reason I gave up my great perch at Walter's on North last night.


From this particular corner stool you can watch a TV screen unimpeded, catch the action at the pool table in the adjoining room, see who's coming through the front door -- or leaving -- and clearly hear the jukebox music channeled through the speakers overhead. The only rub is that the lovely and talented barmaid Cricket is often stationed at the other half of the bar. But she does know how to work the room.

Anyway, I gave it all up last night after watching the U.S. entourage enter the stadium in Vancouver. I may have been missing a lot viewing the splendor and majesty of the Opening Games amid the loud music and barroom chatter, but it LOOKED pretty cool to those of us who were paying attention.

What I did next was pure serendipity. I got home safely, turned on the TV set, and sat down just in time to watch k.d. lang belt out a stirring rendition of "Hallalujah." What an amazing performance. If you didn't see it, I'm sure it has been posted somewhere by now. I just grabbed what I could find and threw it up here for you.

Canada produces some of the finest songwriters, singers, musicians and artists on this planet, and to start naming them here would be a disservice to those who might not receive mention. But today it is safe to say that k.d. lang is one of the finest, and last night she may have been the proudest among them.

It's been more than 20 years since lang remade Roy Orbinson's "Crying" -- a song very few vocalists would or should attempt to take on -- and belted it out of the park. And while her open lesbianism and political views were at least a distraction earlier in her career, she has always been there with that big, beautiful voice, waiting to take on anything.

And last night, performing fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen's classic, she was never better.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Prine time, all the time

Do you know what blood looks like in a black and white video? If you've heard John Prine's "Lake Marie" you know the answer.

Shadows! Shadows, that's exactly what it looks like!

Good morning, it's John Prine Appreciation Day. No particular reason, other than it provides a great launching pad for the weekend. I'm thinking we'd all do better if we kept a steady diet of Prine songs streaming through our speakers and earbuds.

Anyway, "Lake Marie" has been on my mind recently. In the process of rigging up the TV and video equipment in my new apartment I somehow got some wires crossed and must have put a plug in the wrong port. I went back several times to check the DVD-to-TV connection to no avail. So for about three months I was only able to view movies in black & white. (Television, no problem with the color). I never got this issue resolved because:

a) I've become technology challenged
b) I'm too cheap to hire out help
c) I haven't met a neighbor geek who'll do it for a few beers
d) I've come to appreciate everything being cast in film noir.

Really, you should try viewing "Sideways" in black and white. The California wine country has never looked so luscious.

"Road to Perdition," another recently viewed DVD, could have been filmed in black and white. Lots of "shadows." It's spectacular in that format, and gets back to my point, which is: There's a John Prine song for just about everything you encounter in life.

"Lake Marie," always a favorite, became a personal theme song for that one silly passage:

Shadows! Shadows, that's what it looks like!"

And now that my daughter Jessi has solved the video issue I'll be looking for a new theme song. In the meantime "Lake Marie" will continue to receive play. After all, there's a lake not far from here along the Illinois-Wisconsin border, and this summer we're going to put some Italian sausages on the grill, and before long you know what they'll be doing?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

When karaoke kills

And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain...

Botch that song and you could be dead in the Phillipines.

We have our feelings about karoake but, thankfully, it has never led to homicide, justifiable or not. I used to plan visits to certain bars by their karaoke schedules. In other words, if a certain bar was hosting Karaoke Night I would make sure I visited a different watering spot that night.

There are few things worse than having to endure a hacked up version of "My Way" while you're trying to enjoy a refreshing tap beer following a long day of job hunting. Now we learn that bad karaoke can get you killed in other parts of the world. Did you see the story? I stumbled across a headline on and followed the link. I was certain "Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord" was some goofy parody hatched by the Onion. But no, it was a New York Times story so it had to be true. Here's an excerpt:

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

This has to be the Onion, right? Someone must be making this up. But, no, it's the Times. Read on, or follow this link to the complete story.

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.

Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.

I'm speechless, and that might be a good thing to remember when visiting the Phillipines.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just a pissing fancy?

Some people say the world ain't what it is
All I know is I just got to take a whiz

Was it because of lyrics like those from "Piss on the Wall," or in spite of them, that the J. Geils Band rose to prominence?

They were a tough band to figure out. They were named for a guitarist who didn't sing or write and wasn't accomplished at his instrument. The band's beat was driven by a "lead" harmonica player, Magic Dick -- a memorable moniker for any verile rocker. The vocalist, Peter Wolf, was an artist who married Faye Dunaway and certainly didn't lack a stage presence. But when Wolf left in 1983 after creative differences with Seth Justman, the band's keyboardist and songwriter, J. Geils was pretty much gone without him.

They were not easy to put in a genre, being a mixture of blues, rock, R&B and soul with funkadelic grooves running through everything.'s bio refers to them as "the finest Jewish blues-rockers ever to do the Boston Monkey." Whatever.

At this time in 1982 they had the No. 1 song in the country, "Centerfold," featuring a lead riff that will either make you tap a foot or run to the medicine cabinet for aspirin, and possibly both.

Early J. Geils, we're talking a decader earlier, generated some sonically pleasing blues-driven ramps that gave the band its footing. They would enjoy several commercially successful singles like "Give It to Me" and "Must Have Got Lost," and they always produced albums with cool cover artwork that any self-respecting pothead would want to collect.

But it's still a bit surprising to think that "Centerfold" could reside for six weeks atop the Billboard chart. Did the song really have the right mojo and staying power, or were times that lean on the music front in early '82? Probably a little of both. Here was your top five 28 years ago today:

1. Centerfold, J. Geils Band
2. I Can't Go for That (No Can Do), Hall & Oates
3. Waiting for a Girl Like You, Foreigner
4. Harden My Heart, Quarterflash
5. Turn Your Love Around, George Benson

We make too much of these song rankings, but there seems to be some residual value in sifting through the musical remains of the day. And Billboard, for all its faults, at least provides a measuring tool. It's worth noting the song that replaced "Centerfield" at No. 1, Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n Roll" stayed there even longer -- seven weeks. And the chart-topper that ushered in '82 ahead of "Centerfold" was there for 10 weeks: Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."

What does it all mean? What does it MEAN!!! I don't know, but I got to take a whiz...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Don't they have snow days anymore?

Random thoughts while waiting for those 12-14 inches of snow to materialize in the greater Milwaukee area...

In the old newspaper days we called these "notes columns." Once a week you would dump out the leftover contents in your reporter's notebook, organize a few thoughts (if you had time), write a crafty "lede" or "top" and you were done.

I'm sure you know, but that was Ringo's kid Zak Starkey behind the drum kit during The Who's Super Bowl performance. I wonder if he paused to consider that 46 years earlier his old man was playing a pretty big gig himself: It was the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. They sang "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." ...

Not all the good ones die (real) young: Having mentioned the anniversary of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson, we'd be remiss in ignoring Bill Haley, who blazed a pretty fine trail of rock 'n' roll himself. He died on this date in 1981 at age 55. ...

Have you heard anything by James Maddock? Here's a songwriter worth catching up on, and his newish album Sunrise on Avenue C would be a very good entry point. Maddock pretty much disappeared after his band Wood released Songs from Stamford Hill, a critically lauded debut in 2000. Ten years between albums? What's up with that? ...

And speaking of disappearing acts, I was wondering the other day about Eastmountainsouth. Can you blend harmony any better than Kat Maslich and Peter Adams do on songs like that Stephen Foster chestnut "Hard Times"? ...

Quick, find some candles: Carole King, whose Tapestry album remains one of the favorite pop albums of its era, turns 68 today. Other birthdays on February 9 include songwriter Barry Mann (71), "Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp Bomp)," drummer Brian Bennett (70) of the Shadows, and singer Barbara Lewis (66) who melted boys hearts with "Baby I'm Yours" in 1965. ...

And what became of Travis Tritt, who turns 47 with hardly a mention that he was the Super Bowl halftime headliner back in 1993. Goodness how times change. One day you're living in Marietta, Georgia, just down the road from a country star, and 18 years later you're next door neighbors with U.S. Olympic speedskating hopeful Trevor Marsicano. Go get 'em, buddy!

This is fun, but I really have to get Jessi to the airport and there isn't a snowplow in sight. That's her above, enjoying a frigid moment at Atwater Park overlooking Lake Michigan. Click on the image for the true "lake effect." Can't you almost feel it? Brrrrrrrrrr...

Monday, February 8, 2010

The windmills of our minds

I'm not here this morning to bash The Who. I'm certainly not going to blame them for their halftime show. I mean, they were invited by the NFL to perform at the Super Bowl and they showed up, you know? Maybe it was 30 years too late. But it's not like their legacy is suddenly falling into question. If Pete Townshend wants to windmill a Strat at his age (he'll be 65 in May) I'm there for him.

As a service to SSS followers here's a sampling of reviews from other venues:

Frazier Moore, Associated Press
Maybe 30 years ago, The Who would have been an explosive act for a Super Bowl halftime show. Or anywhere else.

At Sunday's Super Bowl, The Who – led by what's left of them from the original groundbreaking foursome a generation ago – did all that was expected under these circumstances. Filling the dozen minutes allotted them between two halves of football pageantry, the group pounded out nostalgia and spectacle – and five classic songs.

They're not ready for Branson, Mo. ...

The original Who were British lads who early on forged a timeless up-yours message to their seniors with the mantra "Hope I die before I get old." But that lyric wasn't heard Sunday night, nor was their landmark song "My Generation." After all, (Pete) Townshend and (Roger) Daltrey are well into their 60s.

Their voices aren't what they were, and it's been a long time since the once-hyperkinetic axman Townshend did his balletic leaping and springing. During Sunday's show he offered only a few trademark windmill guitar licks.

This is not to say these musicians, even in their advancing age, didn't make a powerful impression. And, of course, the staging helped, with plenty of pyrotechnics, laser pinstripes slicing the Sun Life Stadium, and illuminated eruptions dousing the arena.

Despite its brevity, it was a big, warm, enjoyable show, and The Who looked right at home.

Rick Ellis,
Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend (ie. The Who) were the half-time performers at this year's Super Bowl and the entire segment was dreadful and often horrifying to watch. Even though the vocals were apparently pre-recorded, the singing was often off-key. The harmonies were non-existent and both Daltry and Townsend lumbered across the stage with all the grace of a couple of retirees searching for their walkers.

It was just sad and bittersweet to watch. I don't begrudge the duo for wanting to keep performing. But it's clear that their best days (or even okay days) are way behind them. It was never clear to me why the NFL booked The Who in the first place. And after seeing this horrific performance, it's really a mystery to me now.

Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle
Ever since Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake helped usher the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” into mainstream pop culture, Super Bowl halftime performances have sought to coddle audiences with comfortable and familiar artists.

Had The Who of 45 years ago been transported to 2010 by time machine, the band likely have been too edgy to have been successfully vetted for this event.

But that was then, and Sunday night half of the remaining Who performed following breast-free Bowl appearances by Paul McCartney, Prince, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.

While Pete Townshend offered a succinct master class as to why he's one of rock's most important and innovative guitarists, the band's set was shouty and reliant on its legend. It was the musical equivalent of having your food chewed for you, with six guys doing what four used to.

Roger Daltrey's upper register has been endangered for some time, and on a big stage he resorted to chesty bluster. He and Townshend harmonized like bickering walruses. Their chests remained covered, though, as they worked through a porridgey medley of song fragments familiar to people over 30 and viewers of CSI. Pinball Wizard, Baba O'Reilly, Who Are You (where Townshend was particularly sharp and Daltrey came a little closer to hitting the notes), a tiny snippet of Tommy's “see me” refrain and Won't Get Fooled Again were served with conviction and enthusiasm and rote nostalgia. ...

Attempts to go younger risk alienating a core audience. Bridging generations would likely be as sleepy in execution as it sounds on paper: Imagine John Mayer and Eric Clapton boring three generations of football fans together.

Beyoncé would at least keep it classy. Or they could always bring back Prince.

Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
The Who's Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend huffed and puffed as they tried to match the energy and bravado of songs originally recorded more than 30 years ago Sunday in their showcase slot as Super Bowl halftime headliners.

These gruff, grizzled rock ‘n’ roll lifers gave it a good go as they chased past glories. At least Daltrey and Townshend weren’t lip-synching as they struck poses amid the lasers and pyrotechnics. Townshend in shades and porkpie hat swung through windmill chords, Daltrey bellowed and blew through a harmonica solo, and drummer Zak Starkey (yes, Ringo’s son) wore a union-jack shirt for the occasion, evoking the band’s earliest publicity photos from Britain’s Mod era.

Of course, back then Keith Moon was the band’s drummer and John Entwistle its bassist. Both are long gone, and The Who has never really been the same since. No matter, Daltrey and Townshend keep pushing the brand and have licensed their music to countless advertisers to keep it alive. Their set list played like a compendium of TV commercials from the last decade as much as a classic-rock primer: snippets of “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It all built up to the climactic, spleen-busting, technologically-enhanced Daltrey scream. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Roger.

Melinda Newman,
While there was much talk that Daltrey and Townshend would be playing to pre-recorded tracks, there’s no doubt those vocals (other than the scream) were live. Daltrey’s voice is diminished, but it’s still powerful and there were moments during “Who are You” where he sounded great. For the most part, Townshend just sounded creaky. I felt like he should be yelling at us to get off his lawn. Townshend’s guitar playing sounded strong and lots of parents probably got to teach their kids about the Windmill, but the cameras cut away anytime he started to do something interesting. There was no passion whatsoever in the performance (I know, I know, they’ve been phoning it in live for years… I’ve seen them in concert enough to know that), but it’s still disappointing. ...

Ever since Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime appearance with Justin Timberlake, no female breasts have been allowed on stage. It’s been veteran male-fronted acts ever since: Paul McCartney in 2005, Rolling Stones in 2006, Prince in 2007, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 2008 and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in 2009.

I say bring back the estrogen: for 2011, we’re rooting for Lady GaGa or Beyonce.

Rachel Sklar,
If you love The Who and are old enough to remember how awesomely groundbreaking they were — not to mention guitar-breaking — then you will just love the 2010 Superbowl Half-Time Show, even if it is the Doritos Half-Time show (and I’m pretty sure that group that recorded “The Who Sell Out” would have found that pretty ironic). Kicking off with the iconic opening strains of “Pinball Wizard” they segued a little clunkily to “Baba O’Riley,” singing emphatically of the Teenage Wasteland as only middle-aged rockers can. But who cares — Roger Daltrey may not have the free-flowing blonde locks and rockin’ bod that so enticed Cousin Kevin and the Acid Queen and made me go all melty during “I’m Free,” but damn can they still put on a show, and Pete Townsend wailing on the mic gave me a little thrill.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A man goes to the ticket counter...

I've got nothing for you today, except a good joke and a delicious pot of blue-ribbon chili. My daughter Jessi Layne is visiting and we're going to fire up some stuffed jalapeno peppers for appetizers, just to get a nice edge, and maybe even tackle some Whoopie Pies for dessert. Wish you could join us for the big game. The big game is today, right?

We've had a lot of fun here in Packerland over the demise of the Minnesota Vikings and their misfiring quarterback. It's been a joke a day, sometimes two or three, since Brent's errant pass denied the Vikings a trip to Miami where they undoubtedly would have lost their fifth Super Bowl. Here's my favorite:

Subject: Super Bowl Tickets

A man goes to the Minnesota Vikings ticket office and inquires about purchasing Super Bowl tickets.

The ticket teller replies that there weren't any tickets for sale because the Vikings did not make it to the Super Bowl.

The following day the same man goes to the Minnesota Vikings ticket office and inquires about purchasing Vikings Super Bowl tickets.

The ticket teller politely replies that there weren't any tickets for sale because the Vikings did not make it to the Super Bowl.

This goes on for an entire week. The man again goes to the Viking ticket office inquiring about Super Bowl tickets and the teller says none are for sale because the Vikings did not make it to the Super Bowl.

Another week of this goes by and the man still is asking the ticket teller about Viking Super Bowl tickets.

Finally the ticket teller in a loud voice says, "I'VE TOLD YOU FOR THE

The man replies, "I know. I drive all the way from Green Bay just to hear
you say that."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Surf's up

They'll file into the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, tonight for the latest edition of the Winter Dance Party. Those who are coming for their first visit, and perhaps even returnees, will stop to read the plaque which reads:

"There are few buildings in existence today that represent a complete shift in our musical history. As the last concert venue for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, the Surf is the bedrock of where the sound and attitude of rock and roll changed forever."

The Surf, we all know, was Buddy Holly's last gig. We just passed the anniversary -- February 3 -- of Holly's death in 1959, "the day the music died." Those who tour the field north of Clear Lake where the plane carrying Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson crashed will not have a hard time finding the landmark today. The property's owner, Jeff Nicholas, had a steel statue of black rimmed glasses erected near the entrance. (Well, you'll either know you're there, or you'll think you just came upon the gravesite of the late baseball announcer Harry Carey.)

Tonight's headliner is Bill Medley, who appears with Fabian, Lesley Gore, the Crickets and the Orions. Thursday's guests included Freddy Cannon, the Drifters and Dickey Lee. Last night's sock hop featured the Original Whitesidewalls.

All sorts of anniversaries converge at this time and this place. The deaths of the three immortalized rock 'n' rollers, of course. Don McLean's song "American Pie" was No. 1 on this date in 1973 -- 14 years after the plane crash. Medley and his sidekick Bobby Hatfield scored their first No. 1 hit, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" on this date in 1965. And this just happens to be Fabian's 67th birthday. Lots of stuff swirling around.

Have you been to the Surf? Not me. I'm wondering if might have been cool to visit there this weekend. Cool, or maybe just too eerie and weird. I guess you won't ever know, as they say, unless you try it. Maybe we could get a group rate one of these years. Count me in.

Medley had a big enough voice and name to have a solo career after the Righteous Brothers, but we cant' assume it has been easy. Since Hatfield died in 2003 Medley has produced a couple of albums -- you have to love the title of his 2007 CD/DVD release "Damn Near Righteous" -- and he's out there touring (Tampa Bay alert: He's scheduled to appear at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City in March.)

Did you know that "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" is the most played song in radio history? Don't you suppose it would be worth the price of admission just to hear Medley's classic baritone opening "You never close your eyes any more ..." But now what happens with the chorus?

Damn near righteous. So many things in life are, you know?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

'We are the World' redux. Really?

This is not going to sound popular, but I hope you'll hear me out: Do we really need a remake of "We Are the World"?

Yes, Haiti needs help -- now. We should assist the ravaged country and its suffering people any way we can. Money is pouring in for the relief fund from all corners of the world but we can't raise enough, quickly enough. So in that respect, any means of generating support for Haiti and its earthquake victims should be welcomed.

We should applaud the spirit of this renewed effort, and the We Are the World not-for-profit organization that Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie and others have established. But is this the best the mighty entertainment industry and its bejeweled stars can do? Is this as creative as it gets, dusting off and hip-hoppifying a 25-year-old song with the voices of Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Usher and Pink? And Vince Vaughn?

Doesn't this sound a little bit too much like artists coming together to feel good about themselves? Perhaps the inspiration they received in the studio -- and the perspiration they generated during their night of work -- will not only cause us to open up our pockets for Haiti, maybe the artists themselves will feel a surge of generosity. No doubt many of them already have.

If 'We Are the World' collects and distributes money to Haiti that otherwise would never have been raised, then the project will be well worth it. May we all be awash in the spirit of brotherhood, unity and giving when the song is introduced a week from today during Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

But let's not wait for a CD or video to hit retail outlets in order to make a contribution. Visit or call (877) 99-HAITI and help immediately. And let's hope some of these artists recognize an opportunity to lend more than their God-given voices to a song.

Coltrane and Snow and away we go

The Loft was coming through the office speakers yesterday but I wasn't paying much attention. You know those times when you hear music and it's generally pleasing, and you might even be tapping a foot to the beat, but you aren't really LISTENING to it?

That was me. Then, near the end of a song that was completely foreign to my ears, I heard this:

And those who live by fair and just are bound to be laid low
Among the few you still can trust, John Coltrane, Hank Snow

Did I just hear John Coltrane and Hank Snow? I perked up and listened to the rest of the song:

So let’s just raise a glass: for them who time has frozen the page
“To days gone by, when men were men, and all the world was not a stage”

Who was this poet? The chorus took me to the end of the song:

You’re gonna be the one to save the day
Yeah, I believe that’s what you’re here to do
But when the last drops of bourbon mix with the rising sun
Who’s gonna be the one to save you
Who’s gonna be the one to save you

If you've heard this song before, I salute you. You're ahead of me. It's "Who's Gonna Be the One" from Kenny White's new album Comfort in the Static. I've blindly ordered CDs with less to go on, and I'm definitely ordering this one. Forget the mp3 download; I want the works.

Hearing one artist sing the praises of another is like a famous author who writes a blurb for a colleague's book jacket. Thanks, pal, but what do the critics have to say about it? (Not that reviewers know, but they're probably not just stroking a friend.) Yet when David Crosby chimes in on White and Comfort in the Static I respect what he says, which is:

“I’d have to say that Kenny White has earned a place among my favorite singer/songwriters … and particularly, lyricists. As we say in the trade “he goes deep.” A true wordsmith AND musician who reveals a fine sense of humor, as well. Put on your headphones and listen carefully.”

I'm going to. Carefully.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A sermon you need to hear

There is suspicion that Rik Raven has sold his soul to the devil. How else to explain the blazing trail he now leaves in the blues bars, taverns and gin joints he plays?

You almost expect to see charred imprints where the Reverend's white bucks have marched across the dance floor to reach the chair he mounts to finish a show, thrashing the blue Epiphone he bought in La Crosse with rent money.

So this is the Sermon on the Mount.

Sparks are flying and the dance floor crowd backs off a few feet in stunned amazement, concerned that a fire is about to break out. On another chair nearby the Reverend, the tenor sax in Big Al Groth's meaty hands has nearly reached the melting point. A fireworks show never ended with a finale like this.

What, you say it's always been this way at the Reverend's shows? Then why isn't he the most famous bluesman who ever played a lick at Kochanski's Concertina Bar in Milwaukee? Actually, he very well may be that person. And now that he's added Groth to his lineup you best go see Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys before they burn themselves to the ground.

Some of my Florida friends are in for a treat. That's right, the boys are currently touring the Sunshine State. Here's the tentative schedule (a few dates yet to be filled in). From there they'll tear a new hole in Alabama before returning to Wisconsin.

Feb. 5: The Backroom, Boca Raton
Feb. 6: Sebastian Beach Inn, Melbourne Beach
Feb. 7: Day off at the nudist colony
Feb. 8: Day off at the nudist colony
Feb. 9: Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
Feb. 10: B.B. King’s, West Palm Beach
Feb. 11: B.B. King’s, Orlando
Feb. 12: Little Bar, Marco Island
Feb. 15: Berts Bar & Grill, Matlacha
Feb. 16: Bert’s Bar & Grill, Matlacha
Feb. 17: Ace’s Lounge, Bradenton

At Kochanski's recently we were close enough to feel the reverberations from the tiny stage beside the front door. The setup was so tight that the Reverend and Big Al spent most of their time stomping on the floor in front of the stage, where they can throw their elbows and knees into the music. The night was billed a "Dueling Stage Spectacular" with the local rockabilly Uptown Savages alternating on a second stage in the back of the hall.

But we were there for the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, and they delivered the goods. Manning the drumkit is Bobby Lee Sellers Jr., who came over with Big Al from the Rhythm Dogs and lends some sterling vocals to the cause, and thumping the bass is P.T. Pedersen, who props himself up on a stool and doesn't look like much other than the silent type. Then you start listening to his bass lines and you get it. The man has laid it down for Charlie Musslewhite, Big Walter Horton, Sunnyland Slim and Pinetree Perkins, just to namedrop.

The Reverend, infused with the blues of his southside Chicago roots, grew up grooving on Freddy King and has been on stage with some great ones himself. But the names that draw the most intrigue are Evil Evans, Barefoot Jimmy, Chico Johnson and Devil Roberts, bluesmen who have surely shaped the Reverend's music and mojo as much as Koko Taylor and Gatemouth Brown.

What you get once you add it all up is white hot blues. Get there early and keep an eye on the fire extinguisher.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Curtain call for Hank Williams

Hank Williams was deader than a doornail when "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" made it to No. 1 at this time in 1953. It was the last song he wrote, and followed other more famous chart-toppers like "Lovesick Blues," "Cold, Cold Heart," "Hey Good Lookin'" and "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)."

(Perhaps Hank's most famous song, and my personal favorite, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was the B side to "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It," which made it to No. 2 in 1949.)

"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" has never received the airplay or attention of Hank's other classics, but it's a great record that has been covered by both Junior and HWIII, and could easily become a favorite if anybody would give it a listen. Here's your chance if you haven't fallen for it already.

Now you're lookin' at a man that's gettin' kind a mad
I had lot's of luck but it's all been bad
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world a live

My fishin' pole's broke the creek is full of sand
My woman run away with another man
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

A distant uncle passed away and left me quite a batch
And I was livin' high until that fatal day
A lawyer proved I wasn't born
I was only hatched

Ev'rything's agin' me and it's got me down
If I jumped in the river I would prob'ly drown
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

These shabby shoes I'm wearin' all the time
Are full of holes and nails
And brother if I stepped on a worn out dime
I bet a nickel I could tell you if it was heads or tails

I'm not gonna worry wrinkles in my brow
'Cause nothin's ever gonna be alright nohow
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

I could buy a Sunday suit and it would leave me broke
If it had two pair of pants I would burn the coat
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

If it was rainin' gold I wouldn't stand a chance
I wouldn't have a pocket in my patched up pants
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

With the groundswell of emotion over Hank's shocking death on New Year's Day 1953, three other songs soon followed this one as posthumous No. 1s: "Kaw-Liga," "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Take These Chains From My Heart."

The photo of the curtain with the words and music to "Your Cheatin' Heart" was taken during a visit to Hank's childhood home in Alabama last fall. (If you missed that post you can click here.) If you click on the image above I swear you'll almost be able to smell the place. You know if they had been selling curtains I would've walked out with one.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Neil Young wins Grammy

(Haha, we couldn't resist writing that straight headline today.)

Neil Young has long taken a stance on the Grammys that many of us have come to embrace. And like his music, few can state it so eloquently. Young's quote from a 1987 interview:

"I'm not Grammy material. I hate that shit. It has nothing to do with rock 'n' roll. It only has to do with Hollywood, and it's jive -- a buncha people handin' each other awards and talkin' about how they made the best record ... There is no best in music."

We're not sure what to think now that Young finally won a Grammy -- for "best art direction on a boxed or special limited edition package." (He shared this award with two "fellow" art directors.) Guess we'll leave that for him to ponder.

We do think his acceptance speech at the pre-telecast ceremony will go down as one of the greatest in history: “Thanks a lot, everybody,” he said.

So, of course we didn't watch the entire show. (Without popcorn, there was no chance.) But we did tune in to watch Eminem, Lil Wayne, Drake and Travis Barker tear up the stage after a crazed introduction by our favorite director, Quentin Tarantino. To paraphrase Young: Hey, hey, my, my, hip 'n' hop will never die.

And while we agree that there is no best in music, we were happy and surprised to see Taylor Swift snag the Grammy for Album of the Year. And quite relieved that she didn't get shouted off the stage by some madman.