Friday, April 30, 2010

High Tide and Green Grass forever

We take requests.  Especially when they're good ones.  We were sliding a few dollars in a tavern jukebox the other night when a voice suggested: "Play some old Stones."

Happy to oblige.  Before long the joint was jumping to "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Satisfaction" and "Get Off My Cloud."  And we were reminded once again of the Stones' incredible transformational powers.

A good night on the town becomes memorable, like moving up from High Life to Spotted Cow, or Cluny to Dewar's. You stop missing easy shots and start shooting pool like Tom Cruise in "The Color of Money." Eight ball, side pocket. Rack 'em up.

And the hits keep coming now that we've got Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) in the player.  Released in 1966 betweeen Aftermath and Between the Buttons, Big Hits was the Stones' first compilation album.  Back then we thought it was the just about the best thing that had ever come down the pike.  It stayed on the Billboard albums chart for two years, climbing as high as No. 3.  (We weren't aware that a UK issue included the Stones' first single, Chuck Berry's "Come On," as well as Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster" or we would've tracked that down as well.)

Slip this in the player on your next road trip and you won't need to look for a Starbucks drivethrough.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Here's to Truett Lollis, and all the rest

If he can play like Steve Ray Vaughn, that's a pretty good start.  If he happens to have a name like Truett Lollis, how can the kid miss?

My friends -- it was a father and son reunion, actually -- visited Northside Tavern the other night in Atlanta to check out the music.  Unscheduled, but on the stage at some point, was a 19-year-old shredder who played an amazing flourish of electric blues ala SRV.  The sort of jaw-dropping good that would make a house band guitarist wilt.

Now here's the cosmic connection.  While the kid was playing his Strat, the father and the son individually recalled a visit to a guitar store, maybe six or seven years earlier.  There was a young kid in the store, barely a teenager if that, sitting on an oversized amp playing Stevie Ray Vaughn like there was no tomorrow. 

(We realize that SRV is one of them most emulated guitarists on the planet and that there are, conservatively, 2,500 snot-nosed kids plugged in at this very moment trying be be Just Like Stevie. And hundreds more will be home from school in a few hours.) 

The kid in the tavern was a more polished player, for sure. Six years of practicing should burnish a few deeper grooves.  The music was the same, and the facial expressions and gyrations were recognizable.  Father turned to son.  There was no doubt.  Truett Lollis has made it to the stage.  Get at taste by clicking here.

Where he goes from here -- and all those others like him -- nobody knows.  MySpace and YouTube are littered with hundreds of blistering guitar solos by kids you never heard of, and probably never will. Can they learn to channel all that raw talent through their heart and soul and have it come out as real as a Georgia rainstorm?  At least this kid has a name. Remember it, just in case:

Truett Lollis...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Without Pete Ham

No matter what you do
I will always be around
Pete Ham would have been 63 today, but he only made it to 27.  The Badfinger frontman took his life in 1975 just three days short of his 28th birthday. 
The ghoulish bit of irony is that eight years later bandmate Tom Evans, who had co-written the classic "Without You" with Ham, took his own life by the same means: hanging.
Badfinger got its big break in the late Sixties when Paul McCartney heard a demo tape and helped get the band signed for Apple Records.  McCartney also contributed their first Top 10 hit, "Come and Get It," which reached No. 7 on the Billboard chart in 1970.
Several hit singles followed, including "No Matter What," "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue."  Of course "Without You" has been a favorite cover since Harry Nilsson included it on his Nilsson Schmilsson album and scored a No. 1 hit.  Three years later Ham was dead.
Those songs helped secure Ham's rock 'n' roll legacy, but they do nothing in the way of supplying reasons why he chose to leave this world so young.  We found this poem written by daughter Petera Ham's stepfather and dedicated to Pete on what would have been his 60th birthday.  We celebrate his life and music today respectfully aware that a family still grieves.
A Poem for Pete

He bared his soul in his songs
In his each and every line
As notes and lyrics bound together
And gently flowed like wine

He lived his life in music
Was loved both near and far
Never cared about the fame and money
Just wanted to play guitar

Said the world was wonderful
He gave his trust to all
Some saw this as weakness
And started Pete Ham's fall

You left a daughter fair and gentle
In her mothers arms she grew
And Pete from above you must surely see
Petera’s a replica of you

She wonders why you went away
She just wanted to know her Dad
But as surely as she lived your life
She learned what made you sad

But don’t worry Pete we look after her
With friends you never knew
I only wish this help was there
To have sheltered and protected you

We listen to your records without you
We listen day by day
And remember the gentle loving soul
Who had to go away

Monday, April 26, 2010

(Hey) Get a load of this

We read somewhere that "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" is the longest song title to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart. That didn't seem right, so we did some checking and sure enough, the B.J. Thomas song was the leader in the clubhouse back in 1975.

But six year later along came another, and "Venus" was its name.  Actually the official title was "Medley: Intro Venus/Sugar Sugar/No Reply/I'll Be Back/Drive My Car/Do You Want to Know a Secret/We Can Work it Out/I Should Have Known Better/Nowhere Man/You're Going to Lose That Girl/Stars on 45."

Which is just plain silly, both the title and the fact that a medley by a group of studio musicians in Holland could rise to No. 1.  Poor B.J. and songwriters Chips Moman and Larry Butler, who 35 years ago today were Numero Uno.  "(Hey Won't You Play)" is one of those songs that lives forever in its chorus.  In fact, the title alone includes enough words to piece together the medley. 

For the record, here was the Billboard Top 5 on April 26, 1975:

1. (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song, B.J. Thomas
2. Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John
3. He Don't Love You (Like I Love You), Tony Orlando & Dawn
4. Lovin' You, Minnie Riperton
5. Supernatural Thing Part 1, Ben E. King

A week later Tony Orlando & Dawn moved up two slots for a three-week run at No. 1.  Now don't ask us if this was the first time songs with parenthetical titles were back-to-back chart toppers. We just don't want to know.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

When the rain rolls in

The national weather forecast was blaring on the TV this morning at my sister's house and it looks like a rough day across the South, if we understand the graphic which declares:

Multiple Convective Episodes Expected

Damn, that sounds scary! It's only raining here in Whitehall. I guess we're lucky.  And that's the way you have to approach the weather.  As a wise (ass) old farmer once muttered on a street corner in Whitehall:  "There's always a fifty perchant of rain. Either it's gonna, or it ain't."

Well it's gonna here, it already is, and thankfully we've still got Eilen Jewell in our head from last night's drive. Jewell's "Rain Roll In" from her Sea of Tears album could easily become a favorite for days like this.

The song has a decidedly fatalistic bent, but if we wait too long to confront our mortality we'll totally miss the event.  Maybe the trick is to avoid making it a confrontation.  Whatever the case, there'll be no trees cleared on Jiminy Spruce Acres today.  And that's just fine with us.

Let's just listen to the rain roll in
I don't think we've gotta do nothing
The years roll on and before too long
Even the very last one is gone

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wear some shades today

The problem with dating ourselves here at the Sanctuary is it often comes off like bragging.  That is certainly true with any conversation about today's birthday boy...

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on this day in 1936 and he was every bit as important as Elvis Presley to a kid growing up in the Sixties.  He wrote his own music, after all, and his remarkable tenor/falsetto voice was impossible to emulate.  Not that we didn't try. And it's painful to even mention, but we still do.

His first national hit, written with Joe Melson, was targeted for Elvis or the Everly Brothers (great plan) but Roy liked it so much he decided to record it himself.  Britain, which appreciated the best music coming out of America at the time, made "Only the Lonely" Orbison's first No. 1 hit across the pond.  It just missed here, topping out at No. 2. 

This was 1960, and a kid buying 45 RPM records with pocket change now instantly knew to snag anything that appeared on the Monument Records label.  "Only the Lonely" was the first of nine Top 10 songs Orbison recorded for Monument. The second, "Running Scared," became the label and Roy's first No. 1 in 1961.  And when you flipped it over you were rewarded with "Love Hurts."

It's a fact that in 1963 when Orbison toured Britain  -- where "It's Over" also made it to No. 1 -- the Beatles opened for him.  How fitting that a year later, during the early rush of the British Invasion, it was Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman" that replaced the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" as the No. 1 song in America.

Orbison's revival 25 years later with the Traveling Wilburys was a sweet deal, and a launching pad for some folks' appreciation of the legend that one rock 'n' roll biographer compared to "a tree." Oh, but to have been around when his music was taking root.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Let's put 'em to work

We hate to be nabobs of negativity, but what in the world has the Vice President of these United States done for us lately?

Not just Joe Biden, but Dick Cheney before him? Or Al Gore and Dan Quayle for that matter.  (Al did invent the internet, but apparently the thought of iPads never occurred to him at the time.  How forward thinking was that?)

Veeps, for the most part, are sheets.  We have to go all the way back to the office of Calvin Coolidge (1925-29) to find a Vice President who really made a difference.  That would be understudy Charles Gates Dawes, a banker from Chicago who used to play a flute and write sheet music before duty called him to the White House. 

Dawes is the only V.P. to write a No. 1 song.  You probably don't know "Melody in A Major" by that name because it wasn't until songwriter Carl Sigman added the wonderful lyrics and title that a hit was born, and that was long after Dawes' time.

You'll remember the 1958 standard by Tommy Edwards as "It's All in the Game," a song that has been covered by dozens of artists from Andy Williams to Merle Haggard.  We're especially fond of Van Morrison's version here at the Sanctuary but decided to tempt you today with the "original" by Edwards. (Proceeds of .00001 U.S. cents per download will be channeled into the Sanctuary Gives Back fund.)

Now can you tell us what the hell Joe Biden is up to?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That's the ballgame, folks

It was a rough week of disappointing performances but after last night there's hope.  Maybe, just maybe this isn't a one-man show. Here's how we rank them at this stage of the season:

1. (1) Yo Gallardo, needs a win tonight to get on track
2. (3) Dave Bush, finally showed some staying power
3. (2) Randy Wolf, looks like a sheep in Wolf's clothing
4. (4) Doug Davis, proof that not all lefties can pitch forever
5. (5) Jeff Suppan, makes strong case for four-man rotation

Wait! Wrong list! That's the Brewers' starting rotation! Now that baseball season is under way our attention is divided.  The Crew was up 8-0 last night before American Idol even got started, making it easy to dance between stations. Here's how the Sanctuary sizes up the remaining field (previous rankings in parentheses):

1. (1) Crystal Bowersox, "People Get Ready" for a landslide win

2. (2) Lee Dewyze, does "The Boxer" have a knockout punch?

3. (3) Casey James, cover band career is just around corner
4. (8) Aaron Kelly, still better than we were at age 16

5. (5) Big Mike Lynche, judges can't save him any more
6. (6) Siobhan Magnus, can't see butterflies for the leaves
7. (7) Tim Urban, really stepped in the Goo Goos this time

Is it true that Jeff Beck will appear tonight on Idol Gives Back?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Two bits, four bits...

With Adolph Hitler, Grand Funk Railroad and Steve Spurrier on the platter today we expect nothing but a pack of trouble. Nevertheless we forge ahead...

We remember an old guy in Florida who used to sip red wine and listen to German marches blaring from his phonograph before springing to his feet and pole vaulting in his homemade pit. We assume Hitler followed pretty much the same routine before slaughtering millions of innocent people.  For purposes both good and bad, it's the music that inspires you.

The old man did not have any Grand Funk in his collection.  Nor did he seem the least bit interested in University of Florida football. (This was the Doug Dickey era, after all.) But he would flash a smirk after clearing the vaulting bar that would have done the Evil Genius (Spurrier, not Hitler) proud.

What's our point?  Birthdays!  It's April 20th birthdays that connect these characters.  And now we can untie the ribbon and discard Hitler and Spurrier, who share the date but not our harmonious sentiments. Strike a chord for today's Birthday Band:

Lionel Hampton (1908-2002) bandleader, vibes: On the Sunny Side of the Street, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop, Rag Mop

Tito Puente (1923-2000), bandleader, musician:  Abanaquito, Para Los Rumberos, Fancy Feet

Johnny Tillotson (1939), singer: Poetry In Motion, Talk Back Trembling Lips

Jimmy Winston (1945), organ, Small Faces: Whatcha Gonna Do About It

Craig Frost (1948): keyboards, Grand Funk: We’re an American Band, Some Kind of Wonderful

Luther Vandross (1951-2005), singer: Never Too Much, How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye

Monday, April 19, 2010

You, too, can have a No. 1 song

The stories behind songs that become No. 1 can be bizzare, baffling and just plain unbelievable. But the story behind the song that topped the charts on this day in 1973 is, well, you tell us...

First, you start with the song: "The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia."  At first listen, it's not the sort of tune you'd think would have the legs to make a run at No. 1.  The songwriter, Bobby Russell ("The Joker Went Wild," "Little Green Apples," "Honey") didn't even think that much of it.  Among the artists who passed on it was Sonny Bono, who was at the time selecting music for Cher.

(Now if you think about it, Cher and "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" make perfect sense.  If a singer can turn "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and "Half-Breed" into chart-toppers, this song would have been putty for her. But, um, apparently Sonny didn't even mention the song to her.)

Next, you have a singer who wasn't really even a recording artist. Vicki Lawrence, in fact, wasn't even an actor until Carol Burnett discovered her as a lookalike and cast her in the Carol Burnett Show playing Carol's sister.  What Lawrence had going for her was her marriage to ... Bobby Russell.  She liked the song and recorded the demo that Sonny and others turned down.

But the marriage between Russell and Lawrence was brief, and the strain of the disintigrating relationship soured Lawrence on the song and any thoughts she may have had about a singing career.

Finally, you have the American record-buying and listening audience circa 1973. And here's where we learn that virtually any song had a chance.  Before Lawrence's two-week reign the O'Jays took "Love Train" to No. 1.  And the week after it was Dawn and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree."

The Billboard Top 5 on this day in 1973:
1. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Vicki Lawrence
2. Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye), Gladys Knight & the Pips
3. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Roberta Flack
4. Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got), Four Tops
5. Break Up to Make Up, Stylistics

It's almost impossible to comprehend how a month later the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" made it to No. 1.  Or maybe not.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

X-tra, X-tra! The Cleavers reconvene

We finally had an opportunity to watch Those XCleavers live for the first time last night, just 23 years after the release of their album Cult Statis.  We sure hope we don't have to wait 23 years more to see them again.

Obviously these Milwaukee punk practicioners had a strong following back in the day. Not every act fills Shank Hall with the wild energy that was bouncing off the walls and reverberating through the hall last night like a sonic laser beam show.

"You people are scaring me," said bass player Tom Tiedjens early in the second set as the floor in front of the stage became a mob of gyrating bodies. "We thought this was gonna be a concert and an Eighties dance broke out."

You don't dance?  Then you've never seen the XCleavers live. When they were sewing their wild notes years ago they opened for U2 in Madison and the Police at the Milwaukee Auditorium. How "4 Chord Shit," the first song Tiedjens ever wrote, never became a punk national anthem is one of life's great injustices.

For a $10 cover (cheap!) fans were rewarded with a complimentary 15-song disc "Live at Shank Hall 1996" and a high octane show that proved the boys still have plenty of piss and vinegar.  It'll be a shame if they don't start playing out more.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Round and round and round we'll go

It's National Record Store Day. Do you have your vinyl shopping list?  Do you even know where to find one of those incredible vanishing stores?

Hard to believe it's been a year since Zach and I drove up to Vinyl Fever in Tampa to celebrate the big day with an in-store set by New Roman Times.  Now the lad is on a destroyer in Pearl Harbor and his old man is scurrying about in Milwaukee trying to relocate his senses.

Well, not so much scurrying. There is coffee to drink and a newspaper to read -- and we're delighted to report our Pulitzer Prize winning local paper has a Record Store Day story that lists SEVEN participating area shops in boldface type with addresses.  We're set! One thing about record shops: They don't start their day any earlier than you.  It's OK if it takes all day to get there.

With any move it takes time to become familiar with your new surroundings. But sooner or later you find the best route to work, the right barber who doesn't make your hair LOOK like a $12 cut and the tavern that offers a three-hour stimulus special.  A cool record store might not be a priority when you're getting settled,  but it ought to be. Today, finally, it becomes our mission.

We'll be cruising downtown to check out Flipville Records and The Exclusive Company, which are conveniently located within walking distance of each other. Then we'll be on to Musical Memories and Bullseye Records, saving Limewire Music for the trip back home.

To locate a store near you follow this link and click the Participating Stores button. If you don't buy something round today you're just plain square.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An encore for Roy Hamilton

His first single spent eights at No. 1 on the R&B chart. The hits that followed "You'll Never Walk Alone" included "Ebb Tide" and "Unchained Melody." The artists and acts he influenced included Jackie Wilson and the Righteous Brothers. 

But when you review today's Birthday Band it's possible you won't even recognize his name. Roy Hamilton  was only 40 when he died of a stroke in 1969.  The one song he recorded that nobody came back and topped was "Don't Let Go," a bopper that was a crossover hit (No. 2 R&B, No. 13 Pop) in 1957.

Listen up, and light five candles for Hamilton and today's other band members:

Henry Mancini (1924-1994), composer: Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, themes for The Pink Panther, Mr. Lucky, Peter Gunn
Roy Hamilton (1929-1969), singer: You’ll Never Walk Alone, If I Loved You, Ebb Tide, Unchained Melody, Don’t Let Go, You Can Have Her

Herbie Mann (1930-2003), jazz musician: Hijack, Superman, Comin’ Home Baby, Bang! Bang!, Violets Don’t Be Blue

Bobby Vinton (1935), singer: Roses are Red, Blue on Blue, Blue Velvet, Mr. Lonely

Dusty Springfield (1939-1999), singer:  Wishin’ and Hopin’, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, The Look of Love, Son-of-a-Preacher Man, The Windmills of Your Mind, A Brand New Me

Gerry Rafferty (1947): Singer, songwriter: Baker Street, Stuck in the Middle With You

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spring and all

It's 77 degrees out today and the leaves are budding that early green color you can't find in a Crayola box. All we can think of is a Greg Brown song -- another one he didn't play at Shank Hall last Friday night -- and we'll leave you with the lyrics to take wherever they lead you. It's from his 1997 album Slant 6 Mind, one of our favorites:

Spring and what's left of the hippies return
From old rooming houses and Mexico
More letters, more journals, more poems to burn

Real heat at last, at last my words glow

My friend Jim just broke up his band
The guys all have jobs and the nights got too long
He's selling the amps, one guitar, and the van
I'm sure you could have it all for a song

Snow on the north side, trash in the yard
Love like a newspaper tattered and stained
A two bourbon twilight, fog from God's cigar
The neighbor's retarded dog chasing the train

Don't see any good in just hanging around
Take a tip from the birds and change the scene
Find some long river and follow it down
To where our old sins have washed up in New Orleans

Spring and what's left of the songbirds return
To fight about loving and nesting and such
Thanks for the letters you sent back to burn
Their smoke is as light, and as dark, as your touch

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nothin' but hound dogs

It isn't getting any easier on American Idol, and we're not talking about the contestants. No, it's the audience that is having a tough time.  We have seen falling down drunks do a better job with Elvis Presley songs than our heroes did last night. Get this season over with.

It's time to re-evaluate the field, which shrinks by two tonight after another round of voting.  Andrew Garcia is almost certainly gone after butchering "Hound Dog."  Who will join him?  It's probably going to be a close call between Aaron Kelly and Tim Urban, who've been hanging on by the laces of their sneakers.

Here's how SSS handicaps the group (previous rankings from three weeks ago in parentheses):

1. (1) Crystal Bowersox, simply no one in her league

2. (5) Lee Dewyze, he's the good wine and now he's uncorked
3. (3) Casey James, doesn't seem to have the killer instinct

4. (4) Katie Stevens, still annoying Simon but then who doesn't
5. (2) Big Mike Lynche, some quiet redemption with "In the Ghetto"

6. (7) Siobhan Magnus, we were suspicious long before "Suspicious Minds"
7. (10) Tim Urban, baffling how judges liked "Can't Help Falling in Love"

8. (6) Aaron Kelly, tramples the classic "Blue Suede Shoes"
9. (9) Andrew Garcia, Randy calls performance "not good karaoke"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hoist some bubbly for Hank

The Pulitzer Prizes have been "honoring excellence in journalism and the arts since 1917" so maybe this honor was long overdue. Still we were as surprised as we were delighted at the Sanctuary to learn that Hank Williams, who has been gone but hardly forgotten for 57 years, joined the parade yesterday.

While divvying out this year's awards (our local paper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel won its seventh)  the Pulitzer Committee found time to grant  "a posthumous special citation to Hank Williams for his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life."

We couldn't have put it any better. In fact we would have lobbied long and hard for Hank had we known there was even a possibility this might happen.  Previous Pulitzer special citations in music have gone to Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan.  Can you think of anybody else who is more deserving?

Newspapers typically treat this honor like a World Series championship, popping champagne corks and drinking the bubbly to celebrate their deserving victories. (They may not spray it in each other's faces, but who could blame them? It's journalism's ultimate prize.)

We are heartened today to remember the story a few years back of a young Asian-born journalist, still discovering the culture of America, enter a newspaper managing editor's office and ask: "Who is Hank Williams?"

Today she surely knows.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Have a heart

Related to yesterday's discussion about A Minor (Assisting Musicians In Need Of Resources): There's a company doing just the sort of cool stuff we should have envisioned years ago, and it's helping many artists achieve their record-producing goals and dreams.

It's called Pledge Music and here's how it works: The artist or group asks people -- friends, family, fans -- for donations to help them get their music produced. Pledge Music hosts the project and collects 15 percent for turning it into reality, which seems a fair fee. As the website explains:

In effect, you as the fan become the record label the band or solo artist is recording for. You help fund their record and if they don’t reach their pledge target you won’t get charged a cent.  In exchange for your early involvement, you will get the music the moment the recording and mastering is finished. Additionally, if you wish to contribute a little bit more, Pledge Music artists also offer you a range of incentives, ranging from signed merchandise to special events with the band members and in some cases personal involvement in the release process.

For example, if you want to help Nashville songwriter Carey Ott produce his album Human Heart -- and we all do! -- here are just a few of your options:
Album download, $10
Hot off the press CD, $15
Signed CD, $20
Handwritten lyric sheet and signed CD, $60
Your name in the credits and CD, $125
Voice or guitar lesson, $225
House party gig with Carey, $1,000

If you live in or around Nashville Carey will even shampoo your pet ($150, CD) or mow your lawn ($175, CD). It's also worth noting that Carey is donating 10 percent of all funds to the non-profit Bread for the World.  Here's a link to his pledge page, including a song he wrote just for you:

Why not get involved on the front end where you can really make a difference.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I know that guy

Back in the days when my niece Lori was singing like Patsy Cline and we were trying to figure ways to help get her noticed, a noble but underwhelming idea was hatched.  We called it A Minor Promotions, which was not only a favorite guitar chord but also a nifty acronymn: Assisting Musicians In Need Of Resources.  Our biggest challenge: shopping a demo tape of Lori singing Cline's "Crazy," which she knocked out of the park, and LeeAnn Rimes' "Blue."

Among the people we gave this tape to was Brett Favre. We bumped into him at the Quarterback Challenge at Disney World and, what the hell -- he supposedly liked country music -- handed him a copy.  A year later he led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship.  Those are the facts and you can draw your own conclusions.

We're sad to report that A Minor's momentum eventually fizzled out. Well, until Friday night in the mens room at Shank Hall. Waiting time for a stall in the bathroom between shows was about a minute -- not bad unless you happen to be a performer preparing to take the stage. 

A big man in a floppy straw straw hat opened the door and immediately pressed toward the front.

"I was gonna go out back but they said I'd set off the alarm," he said in a booming baritone voice. "Anybody mind if I get in here?"

"Go for it," I said, giving up my spot at the front to the night's headliner. He obliged, and while he was doing the deed I added: "My only request is that you play "I Don't Know That Guy."

"Awwwwww," Greg Brown said over his shoulder. "I don't know that song."

He then went out and delivered a rousing set, playing a mixure of new and old songs and even covering his wife Iris Dement's "Let the Mystery Be."

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

We hardly even noticed he never played "I Don't Know That Guy."

PICTURED ABOVE: Benson Ramsey of the Pines joins Greg Brown on stage at Shank Hall in Milwaukee.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trail of the lonesome Pines

When Benson Ramsey says the Pines are profoundly grateful to open for Greg Brown you know he's as sincere as the rich tones coming from his Gibson Blues King guitar.  They're a perfect match, and he knows it.

So do the crowds who are discovering them on their current tour through the cornbelt, which is fertile turf for these Iowa trobadours, both the legend and now the upstarts.

Last night at Shank Hall in Milwaukee, tonight at the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton, Wisconsin, and Sunday at the Space in Evanston, Illinois.  Connect the dots and you have a trail that must be leading somewhere special for the stunningly talented duo of Ramsey and David Huckfelt. 

Their sparse but richly woven textures provide a poignant definition of roots music. This is it. Two perfectly blended guitars and voices that stir the soul.  Music from the heartland and lyrics from the heart.  Playing songs from their new album Tremolo (Red House Records), the Pines steer you to places you might never have found without them, quiet places where comfort can be gained and realizations fulfilled, even stirring beneath a veil of sadness.

We talk about the end of the world
As we go walking at night
And the nightingale brings the mail
At dawn's early light

Falling down the street
You reached out and took my hand
And sat next next to me by the light of a movie
On the witness stand

We surrender, just to survive
But no matter how hard you try
No, you can't put the tears
Back into your eyes

Boxes of books and clothes
Oh, the compass you gave to me
So I can find, till the end of time
My way to thee

The bells of midnight chime
The moon and your shiny shoes
I've stumbled around, so many towns
Dreaming of you

Friday, April 9, 2010

A cure for the blues

Woke up this morning
Had the blues on my mind
Searched through my 'M' pile
Now I'm feelin' fine...

M, as in Mayall ... as in Mmmmmmm good. Our first exposure to smoking British blues came when an older friend returned from a tour of Vietnam and started putting John Mayall's Turning Point album on the turntable.  How had we missed that?

You never know when the Blues Breakers bug is gonna strike. We couldn't find Turning Point this morning but we did locate another gem:  Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton.  It's in the player now and will be guiding us down North Avenue this morning.

Clapton came into our headphones first during his short but memorable time with the Yardbirds.  His stint with Mayall was also brief, but provided ear-popping evidence of his greatness as a blues guitarist. Mayall had a knack for finding great guitarists and giving them some ground-breaking exposure. Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor all spent time in the Blues Breakers. There have been many others, but right now we don't care to venture past Clapton's truly amazing covers of "What'd I Say" and "Ramblin' On My Mind." 

That Mayall harmonica ain't too shabby, either.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coming back to roost

There she is, at the top of the musical heap:  The first guitar I ever owned, a sunburst acoustic six-string Dorado by Gretsch. 

Nothing fancy, I think it was purchased for $115 back in 1971 at a store in La Crosse, Wisconsin. You can't help but wonder how much more it would have cost to score a Gibson or Martin back then  -- and what those instruments would be worth today.  But if you think too much about these things you start worrying and fretting, and that's just not healthy.

The Dorado now graces the wall of a home recording studio in East Nashville, Tennessee.  How cool is that?  More than a few songs have been written on her (sure wish we could remember the words to "Ocklawaha Blues"), but she's pretty much retired now except for an occasional pick 'n' strum.

We've asked the question before, about the whereabouts of your first guitar -- if you never owned one get out there today and start looking. It's more than an instrument, it's art. And furniture!  We hope if that first one got away from you there's at least a good story behind it.

Me, I couldn't be prouder that mine's still in the family, occupying a lofty perch on the fringes of Music City.  Best of all, I have visiting rights.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Not enough cake to go around

Last year on this day we feted birthday boy Bobby Bare, one of our favorite country musicians back when country was cool. What we failed to acknowledge at the time is the impressive group with whom Bobby shares this special occasion.  Check out our Birthday Band for April 7, and be sure to hoist a glass in their honor this evening:

Percy Faith (1908-1976): Composer
Theme from "A Summer Place", Delicado, Song from Moulin Rouge

Billie Holiday (1915-1959): Singer
Lover Man, They Can’t Take that Away from Me, God Bless the Child

Ravi Shankar (1920): Sitar

Bobby Bare (1935): Singer
Detroit City, 500 Miles Away from Home

Spencer Dryden (1938-2005): Drums, Jefferson Airplane
Somebody to Love, White Rabbit

Mick Abrahams (1943): Guitar, Jethro Tull, Blodwyn Pig
Serenade to a Cuckoo

Patricia Bennett (1947): Singer, the Chiffons
He’s So Fine, One Fine Day, Sweet Talkin’ Guy

John Oates (1949): Singer, Hall and Oates
Sara Smile, I Can’t Go for That, Private Eyes, Maneater

Janis Ian (1951): Singer
At Seventeen, Society’s Child

Bruce Gary (1952): Drums, the Knack
My Sharona, Good Girls Don’t, Baby Talks Dirty

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

They were a handful

Occasionally we'll pimp over-the-top Beatles devotees who just won't shut up about how great their boys were.

We know they were great!  But it would be nice to have a civil discussion about Beatles vs. Stones, for example, without Fab Four fans getting so spitting mad.  I suppose we incite matters by asking them if, deep down, they really think "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is a great bit of song writing. Goodness they take these conversations seriously.

Then they throw something like this back at us. It's their Exhibit A, also known as the Billboard Top 5 from this day in 1964:
1. Can't Buy Me Love, Beatles
2. Twist and Shout, Beatles
3. She Loves You, Beatles
4. I Want to Hold Your Hand, Beatles
5. Please Please Me, Beatles

That's pretty convincing evidence. And yet five weeks later "Can't Buy Me Love" was toppled by Louis Armstrong's "Hello Dolly," which was quite fitting.  It was Armstrong who once uttered "If it hadn't been for jazz, there wouldn't be no rock 'n' roll."  Truer words were never spoken.

How in the world did an old man with a trumpet and a gruff voice momentarily beat back the revolution?  There's only one explanation.  The Beatles were busy reloading. And, of course, the Stones hadn't arrived.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Her soul came shinin' through

A lovely couple we know played Minnie Ripperton's "Lovin' You" at their wedding. Good plan or bad?

Even if the bride and groom both thought it was a fabulous idea there must have been some nervous moments during the song when either one of them could have bolted.  But they made it through the ceremony and years later they're still together.  Whether you love or hate the song -- do you suppose American Idol judge Randy Jackson might have called it pitchy? -- you have to call it a success story.

We have special thoughts about "Lovin' You" here at the Sanctuary but admit we don't play it every day.  When we hear it though, our thoughts turn back to this time in 1975 when it rose to No. 1 and Ripperton became famous for her beautiful five-octave range.

Here was the Billboard Top 5 on April 5, 1975:
1. Lovin' You, Minnie Ripperton
2. Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John
3. No No Song/Snookeroo, Ringo Star
4. Express, B.T. Express
5. You Are So Beautiful, Joe Cocker

Ripperton was diagnosed with cancer the following year. She died on July 12, 1979 at the age of 31. A tragic story, but a memorable song that secured her legacy and helped two friends tie the knot.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Here comes Peter ... wait!

We followed several bunny paths yesterday in our search for a fitting Easter photo and this is the best we could do.  This little critter poked his head out of a hiding spot long enough to snag a nut that was left for him.  (Click on photo for best view.) Robins get all the credit for announcing the arrival of spring, but chipmunks serve the same purpose -- and they're a lot cuter.  Happy Easter! Keep a song in your heart no matter which path you're headed down...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mixing up some good medicine

Cruising through the Sixties -- nice!  Nudge the dial back ever so slightly now and it's 1965 and Bob Dylan, four years into the Greenwich Village scene, is entering the Top 40 charts for the first time.  Which of the following singles put him there?

a) Corrina Corrina
b) Blowin' in the Wind
c) Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
d) The Times They Are a-Changin'
e) Subterranean Homesick Blues

Singles, it turned out, weren't the game Columbia Records wanted to play to introduce its new folk prodigy to the world. The first Dylan song released as a single, "Mixed Up Confusion" w/ "Corrina Corrina" in 1962, was a curious choice that failed to chart.  Nor did "Blowin' in the Wind/Don't Think Twice" in 1963, which seems surprising, or even "The Times They Are a-Changin'/Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" in 1964.

(It's annoying listing both songs with every release, but with Dylan's music there really aren't "B" sides, only "other" sides.)

Album sales, meanwhile, were doing swell.  The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan made it as high as No. 22 and The Times They Are a-Changin' was No. 20.

It was Dylan's fourth single, "'Subterranean Homesick Blues" backed by "She Belongs to Me,"  from the album Bringing It All Back Home that entered the Top 40 at number 39 on this date in 1965 and remained on the charts for eight weeks.

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
And you only got ten

They weren't exactly singing this one around campfires, but it worked for us then and it's definitely one of our favorites today at the Sanctuary.  And you don't need eleven dollar bills to download it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Catch you on the flip side

...and all your kicks ain't bringin' you peace of mind
Before you find out it's too late, girl
You better get straight
No, but not with kicks...

How's that for continuation?  Yesterday's conversation stirred up some memories and after last night's magic carpet ride, well, why not polish off the thought.

Paul Revere and the Raiders.  How'd they do it?  Not the music, which was grand, but the costumes? Did they really wear those get-ups for every live performance?  Revolutionary! Our three-cornered hat's off to 'em.  I guess you could say they were a properly dressed response to the British Invasion, although some folks might have believed they were from across the pond and not the Great Northwest.

The Raiders made their presence felt in 1965 with "Steppin' Out." A year later their grease-the-skids rock was burnished forever in our brains with three memorable singles including the aforementioned "Kicks," which made it to No. 4.  "Hungry" (No. 6) and "Good Thing" (No. 4) were the others. By the end of the decade they had scored nine top 20 hits, but no No. 1s.

Turned out the quirky "Cherokee Reservation" in 1971 was their only chart-topper.  It was also the band's last Top 20 single.  Not a band run, though, and when it was over "Kicks" in our minds stood above the rest, and not at all because of the cautionary tale of drug use.

Girl, you thought you found the answer on that magic carpet ride last night
But when you wake up in the mornin' the world still gets you uptight
Well, there's nothin' that you ain't tried
To fill the emptiness inside
But when you come back down, girl
Still ain't feelin' right...

Now where's Bass Solsrud to fill us in on some of the flip sides, which were memorable as well...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just for kicks

Earth to Bass ... Earth to Bass ...

I miss my old childhood neighbor friend Eliot "Bass" Solsrud, who will never visit the Sanctuary for the simple reason that he never crossed the bridge. To the internet, to modern technology, to the blogosphere, to what we have here.  Which may be modest but, damn, it's got to be better than playing the pull tabs back in Whitehall.  And we all lose, because Bass would be a great addition to our little club.

He was my partner in crime when it came to music. Not as a player -- I don't know that he ever picked up an instrument -- but as a disciple of the songs and music that defined our generation.  And it was THE generation.  The Sixties. He's a year older than me and he lived behind our house at the bottom of the hill on Ellis Street, next to the neighborhood whiffle ball field, which had permanent bases, an elevated mound, and a home run fence. (The short porch in right field was literally Marvin's garden.)

Bass is still around. I see him occasionally, usually in that tavern on Main Street.  I bought him a beer one time and brought up music, but talk was small when we talked at all, to thieve a line from an old song.  I mentioned the Sanctuary, knowing we'd have a real player on our hands if we could just get him through the portal.  Not going to happen.

We used to play this silly game -- maybe you've played it too -- where we'd try to stump each other with minutiae we memorized while collecting 45 RPM records, and our collections were impressive. It went like this:

"Red Rubber Ball?"
"Cyrkle.  Label?"
"Columbia. Song length?"
"Two minutes, twenty seconds. Songwriter?"
"Simon and Woodley. Flip side?
"That would be the very forgettable 'How Can I Leave Her' which, by the way, clocks in at two minutes, thirty-five seconds. Next."

On and on we'd go, from one record to another, some more obscure than others. It might be an hour before somebody got stumped. Of course we knew the lyrics:

I should have known you'd bid me farewell
There's a lesson to be learned from this and I learned it very well
Now I know you're not the only starfish in the sea
If I never hear your name again it's all the same to me
And I think it's gonna be alright
Yeah, the worst is over now
The mornin' sun is shinin' like a red rubber ball

Where are you this morning Bass?  I wanted to ask you about "Kicks," which was making its way up the charts about this time in 1966.

Kicks just keep gettin' harder to find...