Thursday, September 30, 2010

For what it's worth

Dewey Martin, left, manned the drum kit for Buffalo Springfield.
With a name like Walter Milton Dewayne Midkiff he was either going to be a banker or a lawyer or, well, he could just change his moniker. How does Dewey Martin sound?

Sounded good to Stephen Stills and Neil Young when they were assembling Buffalo Springfield and needed a drummer.  By any name Martin was an accomplished
percussionist who did session work for Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison, just to drop a few names.  The man had a beat.  And although he wasn't responsible for any of the songs on Buffalo Springfield's self-titled 1966 debut album, Martin did take credit for inspiring Stills to write the classic "For What It's Worth" by slipping him some LSD.

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Martin would've been celebrating his 60th birthday today but we lost him a year ago.  Doesn't mean we can't raise a glass to honor him and the rest of our Sept. 30 Birthday Band.  Cheers!

Johnny Mathis (1935): Singer
Chances Are, Misty, The Twelfth of Never, A Certain Smile

Dewey Martin (1949-2009): Drums, Buffalo Springfield
For What It’s Worth, Sit Down I Think I Love You, Good Time Boy

Marilyn McCoo (1943): Singer, Fifth Dimension
Up, Up and Away, Aquarius, One Less Bell to Answer

Sylvia Peterson (1946): Singer, Chiffons
One Fine Day, He’s So Fine, Sweet Talkin’ Guy

Deborah Allen (1953): Singer
Baby I Lied, Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me (with Jim Reeves)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

If the Spirit moves you...

Give us an 'S'!  Give us an 'I'!  Give us a 'P'!  What's it spell?  Another sip of Sundays at the Sanctuary by our man Shelor!  Why?  Because the man has Spirit!

By Wayne Shelor

Open this link in a new window:

Early on, Spirit was one of my favourite bands. The jazz-influenced, America prog rock group had a couple of LPs in everyone’s record collection, and Spirit songs were a staple of one of the most popular local cover bands. For me, the mix was what defined the sound of Spirit: elegantly constructed, guitar-driven, lyrically hooked songs with a soft padding of strings, Theremin and Moog music.

Spirit was formed in Los Angeles around teen prodigy Randy California, who, at age 15, was in a band with Jimi Hendrix -- Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. (Hendrix, you should know, named Randy Wolfe “Randy California” when he found one too many Randys in that band).

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Spirit songs such as “I Got a Line on You” “Nature’s Way,” “Fresh Garbage,” “1984” and “Mr. Skin” got a lot of airplay; this is a less-familiar song called “Taurus,” and reveals clearly the writing style and the crisp, distinctive guitar work of Randy California.

You may not recognize this song at first, but surely you know the guitar progression, there – right at the 45-second mark …minor, descending … yep, you knew it straight away; almost everyone knows several parts of this song.

Randy recorded “Taurus” in November 1967 and released it in the spring of ‘68 on Spirit’s self-titled first album. At about that same time, an up-and-coming rock band from England was the opening act for Spirit in concert. A band called Led Zeppelin played any number of concerts with Spirit before the soon-to-be Heaviest Band On Earth ascended to its rightful place in the firmament. Three years later, the band released “Stairway to Heaven” on side 2 of its fourth (untitled) album. It’s one of the most famous and popular songs of all time.

Randy California, who drowned in 1997, just before his 46th birthday, never got much worked up about the similarities, and I don’t figure it warrants anyone else doing so, either. Further, I’d like to believe Zeppelin's Robert Plant acknowledged Jimmy Page’s major lift of a minor chord progression with the “Stairway To Heaven” lyric “There's a feeling I get/when I look to the west/And my spirit is crying/for leaving.”

There’re all sorts of guitar gods in the constellations of rock ‘n’ roll. Some you can see with the unaided eye, others you need a special lens to find.

Now that you know who wrote one of the most instantly recognizable guitar riffs in the history of popular music, it might make you feel like you did when you found out Duane Allman – not Eric Clapton – wrote and played those seven sterling notes that introduce “Layla.”

But that’s another story …

Friday, September 24, 2010

Superman or Green Lantern had nothing on him

Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.  Donovan was hip. Some of us didn't know it until the summer of 1966 when out of the blue "Sunshine Superman" arrived to save the day.  The dude should have been wearing a paisley cape.

This was a summer of surprises as James and the Shondells broke through with "Hanky Panky," the Troggs scored with "Wild Thing" and Question Mark and the Mysterians gave us an early taste of punk with "96 Tears."  Before the leaves had dropped Count Five dropped "Psychotic Reaction" into the mix.  The airwaves were alive with new sounds and grooves no one had heard before.

And Donovan was front and center -- and a full year ahead of the Summer of Love and the age of  psychedelia -- with "Sunshine Superman." 

Everybody's hustlin' just to have a little scene
When I say we'll be cool I think that you know what I mean
We stood on the beach at sunset, do you remember when?
I know a beach where baby a-it never ends
When you've made your mind up, forever to be mine

What a fine trip it was. We didn't discover a beach that grand until years later. What we'd give to be back there now, where it never ends.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Get a load of this cusp

Tattoo you: The Libra sign
Today's Birthday Band members are Libras, but just barely.  September 23 is the first day in the seventh sign of the zodiac. We are on the cusp, as they say in the horoscope game. That may be why the description of Libras found on whispers not a hint of the greatness we are about to witness. Quite the contrary:

Their cast of mind is artistic rather than intellectual, though they are usually too moderate and well balanced to be avant garde in any artistic endeavor.

Perhaps the quibble will be over the term avant garde, because we are absolutely flush with artistic genius on this day.  Three of the greatest musicians in their respective genres have September 23 birthdays: John Coltrane, Ray Charles and Bruce Springsteen. How great is that?

John Coltrane (1926-1967): Jazz musician, composer
LP classics: Giant Steps, A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things

Ray Charles (1930-2004): Singer
Georgia on My Mind, I Can’t Stop Loving You, Crying Time

Les McCann (1935): Singer, pianist
Compared to What, Bang Bang!, Cold Duck

Steve Boone (1943): Bass, The Lovin' Spoonful
Do You Believe in Magic, Daydream, Summer in the City

Julio Iglesias (1943): Singer (60 LPs, 5 languages)
To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before (with Willie Nelson)

Ronald Bushy (1945): Drums, Iron Butterfly

Bruce Springsteen (1949): Rock musician, E-Street Band
Classic Albums: Born to Run, Born in the USA, Nebraska, The River

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pronounced: Leonard Skinner

A Florida newspaper columnist suggested this week that if members of Lynyrd Skynyrd had played by society's rules they may have been a greater band and better members of society.  "Maybe their lives would have been as glorious as their music," the writer opined.

Well, maybe.  And maybe they would've called themselves The Noble Five -- one of the band names they considered -- and cranked out lousy music that nobody cared about. 

The occasion for this discussion is the death of Leonard Skinner, the strict gym teacher for whom Lynyrd Skynyrd's name was mockingly taken, who died this week at age 77 after a battle with Alzheimer's disease.
It's true the original band members dealt with a variety of tragic consequences related to drugs and alcohol.  We don't know that it caused the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, or prevented Lynyrd Skynyrd's lead singer from being the absolute best Southern rocker that he could be.

We don't know that if drummer Artimus Pyle had obeyed Skinner and the school rules at Robert E. Lee High in Jacksonville he would've found a better beat and never wound up a registered sex offender.

Guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington nearly killed themselves in automobile crashes -- Collins would eventually die of related complications -- and bass player Leon Wilkeson was dead at 49, far too young to be a victim of liver disease. 

That's a lot of tragedy, and it may have been related to hell raising and hard living.  But greatness and tragedy are often wrapped up in the same tight ball.  You sometimes don't get one without the other, especially it seems with rock 'n' roll.  We wish they had all stayed around a lot longer, but we wouldn't have asked them to do things differently.

As their anthem boldly proclaimed, those birds you cannot change.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The way the story goes

We ran across an old video clip of Badfinger performing "No Matter What" the other day and realized it was the first time we were watching Pete Ham perform.  At least that we can remember.  More than likely we caught the band performing on The Midnight Special or some other TV program. (Memories, you will all discover, can be selectively confounding.)

Ham's tragic death was covered here on his birthday anniversary back in April.  There's no reason to bring it up again today other than: Damn, we miss that guy, and that sound.  We had heard "No Matter What" again the other day on the radio and then we found the video.  Paste this link in a new window and continue:

This was circa 1971.  The band here was hardly polished, having recently changed its name from The Iveys after signing with the Apple label.  It's just two guitars, bass, and a drum kit -- the standard rock band setup -- but there is something about the sound they generate.

Ham had not been happy when Badfinger's first assignment was to record Paul McCartney's "Come and Get It." But "No Matter What" is Ham's song, and it charted well enough (No. 8 U.S., No. 5 UK) to validate him as a songwriter and band leader.  There were others, as we mentioned in that previous post, but none so grand as "Without You," a song of lost love and deep pain that Ham and bandmate Tom Evans pieced together from separate songs. Harry Nilsson had a No. 1 with "Without You," but there is nothing wrong with the Badfinger original that appeared on their album No Dice.

Well I can't forget this evening
And your face when you were leaving
But I guess that's just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes it shows

Well, I can't forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow
I had you there, but then I let you go
And now it's only fair that I should let you know
What you should know

I can't live if living is without you
I can't live I can't give anymore
I can't live if living is without you
I can't live I can't give anymore

Sad. So very sad.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Forever bound by that Hendrix sound

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix.  That's a long time -- more than enough time for an entire new generation of fans to discover and appreciate the music of a legendary guitarist.  Sanctuary contributor Wayne Shelor discusses the signature sound.

Open in a new window:

By Wayne Shelor

From the first electrified moments of this song, most people guess immediately who’s playing the guitar.

Like most of us, I’ve long believed handwriting -- a person’s signature in particular -- says something about the person. I know one of America’s Founding Fathers is recalled specifically for his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

And like the most of us, the first time I heard this guitarist’s sound I knew I’d recognize his signature anywhere else, from his “Wild Thing” performance at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival to his mind-blowing “Star-Spangled Banner“ closing August 1969’s Woodstock.

This is a recording called “Move Over, Let Me Dance (Pt. II”), one of just a handful of tracks Jimi Hendrix recorded with the Isley Brothers in 1964/65. His guitar dominates this instruments-only edit, on which you can hear that the funk and the jangling, chuggling rhythm work that's a spinal staple of Hendrix’ musical canon, right up to his death in 1970.

Hendrix, dead at 27, is arguably the top rock ‘n’ roll guitarist of all time and easily the most recognizable, fully 40 years after his death, because of his sonic signature.

Hendrix’s “handwriting” ranged from the heavy crayon scrawls of “Purple Haze” to the filigreed fretwork on “Little Wing,” and whether he was attacking or seducing, his signature was always … bold as love.

(To hear the unedited original version of “Move Over…” – in which the Isley’s vocals and the production are every bit as spacey as Hendrix’ guitar work - go to

Friday, September 17, 2010

For the record

How do you rank the top record stores in America?  There's no way to get this anywhere close to right without visiting every shop from Brooklyn to L.A., from International Falls to New Orleans, and every city, town, village and whistle stop in between. 

Nobody to our knowledge has done that yet, but if you can come up with some grant money we'll get on it today!  Nope, it hasn't been done. Certainly not by Rolling Stone, which teased us this week in its online newsletter with:

The Best Record Stores in the USA: The top 25 spots for unique vinyl and CDs, from San Francisco to Boston

We're happy whenever the spotlight is shined on record stores.  In a declining society where most of the good things are disappearing, it's nice to know there is still the record shop. And that we're paying attention to them.  So any mention is a good mention. And we're happy to report that two of our favorite shops are featured: Electric Fetus in Minneapolis and Vinyl Fever in Tampa.  We're sorry to report, however, that Grimey's in Nashville didn't make the cut. 

Here's a link to the list (it's not a story, but a panel of click-ons, so it's takes time to wade through):

You might have stumbled into one or two of these wonderful emporiums, or maybe one day soon you will.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Demystifying a dynamic duo

What made Lennon-McCartney click?  Slate correspondent Joshua Wolf Shenk has taken a revealing look at the fermentation process that yielded the greatest songwriting duo of our time.

Today's assignment:  Click on this link and start reading Creative Pairs: Why Two is the Magic Number. To get you jumpstarted here's an inviting passage from Part One:

When they were writing "I Saw Her Standing There," Paul offered this opening verse:

"She was just seventeen
Never been a beauty queen."

"You're joking about that line," John shot back, "aren't you?" He offered this revision:

"She was just seventeen
You know what I mean"

There it is: Innocence meets sin—an inviting, simple image takes a lusty, poetic leap.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Biting off more than we can chew

Some people take this stuff more seriously than we do. Or maybe they're just trying to help our tight little fraternity gain deeper meaning and perspective.  Take for example Tom in Colorado Springs, who was duty bound to decipher the lyrics to "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" long before we mentioned the Hollies' 1972 hit in yesterday's post.

We know Tom took his job seriously from what he wrote at

You know, I've scoured about every site containing the lyrics to [Long Cool Woman] and there are some parts that no matter how hard I try to hear the accepted lyrics, they just don't match with what I'm hearing. contention with what everyone says the lyrics are, I am proposing my version of the lyrics. These lyrics are acquired by taking the mp3 file of the song and playing it back in an editing program and slowing the tempo down while maintaining the pitch. I slowed the speed down to 60% which made the lyrics much clearer...then in the parts that were still a little unsure I slowed it down to 50%. I'm 99.99% positive these are the actual words to this song. Most are the same as the accepted versions but there are some differences. I suggest, printing my lyrics and reading them along as you listen to the song. Anyway...this isn't meant to cause an argument, I'm just proposing this version after a long time analyzing the words. Here we go:

(Paste this link into a new window if you want to try follow:

Saturday night I was downtown
Workin' for the FBI
Sittin' in a nest of bad men
Whiskey bottles pilin' high

Bootleggin' boozers on my left side
All the people who are doin' wrong
Just about to call up the DA man
When I heard this woman sing a song

A pair of 45's, baby, or pull my knives
My temperature started to rise
She was a long cool woman in a black dress
Just a 5-9 beautiful tall

The first two verses were working OK for us, then ... a pair of 45's, baby?  We've had enough!  Our previous regard for "Long Cool Woman" is diminished somewhat, but we hold Tom in Colorado Springs in highest regard.We  believe he's ready to tackle "Louie Louie."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Even if we don't know the lyrics

Here was Billboard's Top 5 heading into September 1972:

1. Brandy (You're a Fine Girl), Looking Glass
2. Alone Again (Naturally), Gilbert O'Sullivan
3. Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress), Hollies
4. I'm Still in Love With You, Al Green
5. Hold Your Head Up, Argent

One of the great songs of that year, "Long Cool Woman" never made it No. 1, falling just short (although it did top the Cashbox chart). And that's a shame. For Allan Clarke, who had just left the Hollies to consider a solo career. For the Hollies, who never notched a Billboard No. 1. And for the state of rock 'n' roll.  A peek at Billboard's year-ending Top 10 is telling:

1. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack
2. Alone Again (Naturally), Gilbert O'Sullivan
3. American Pie, Don McLean
4. Without You, Nilsson
5. Candy Man, Sammy Davis Jr.
6. I Gotcha, Joe Tex
7. Lean On Me, Bill Withers
8. Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me, Mac Davis
9. Brand New Key, Melanie
10. Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast, Wayne Newton

Wayne Newton?  Meanwhile, "Long Cool Woman," with its great guitar hook and some indecipherable lyrics, finished at No. 24, just ahead of Mouth & MacNeal's "How Do You Do." Of course these rankings mean nothing, but still.  "Long Cool Woman" is the one you want to hear when you're rocking down the highway, not "Candy Man"!  The song doesn't track with the video above, but we love it just the same. As someone commented on YouTube:

"If you don't like this song you suck."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hang loose today, Mr. N

Be careful out there today Graham Nash, wherever you are. According to the schedule you're supposed to be in Cleveland on the CSN tour with bandmates David Crosby and Stephen Stills.  So good luck, and God speed!

September 13 has not been kind to Nash.  On this day in 1963, he was checking the door of his touring van to see if it was locked.  It was not. Nash fell out of the vehicle, which was clipping along at 40 mph.  He was unhurt, and the future of the Hollies -- not to mention CSN and even Y -- remained on course.

On this same day in 1999, Nash broke both legs in a boating accident off the coast of Hawaii. He was waylayed for a spell with casts on both legs, but recovered in time for the big CSNY2K tour in 2000.

It's a reminder that we still haven't picked up Nash's 3-CD boxed set Reflections (Rhino), which includes 64 tracks recorded with the Hollies, CSNY, Crosby and of course his solo work. Surrounded by immense talent much of his career, Nash has not always received his due.  But you need only listen to "Our House" or "Teach Your Children" again -- or even "Carousel" from those early Hollies days -- to be reminded of his greatness as an artist and songwriter.

Just don't break a leg tonight, man.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trash talk

By Wayne Shelor

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I'm gonna tell you a tale this Sunday morning -- and every word's the gospel truth -- about a peculiar song from 1961 that the singer pulled out of the trash can and turned into the top song on the charts. Perhaps the most interesting part of the tale is that this song was largely responsible for introducing church music to the rock 'n’ roll masses.

Ernest Kador, who performed as Ernie K-Doe, was signed to Minit Records, a small label whose artists and repertoire man was Allen Toussaint, a songwriter, session piano player and producer who later found lasting fame as a performer.

Ernie was hanging out at Toussaint's New Orlean’s house one day when he found a funky song in the trash can; it was an unflattering song about the proverbial problems with "the worst person I know," as the lyric described a man's wife's mother.

Ernie wanted to record the song, so he and Toussaint went into the studio where Toussaint built the song along a praiseworthy spine of gospel-structured piano, and the bass-throated Benny Spellman added the great "mother-in-law" lyrical hook.

For reasons inexplicable, the nation's too-young-to-be-married teenagers bought the song in record numbers, making "Mother-in-Law" the Number One song in America the third week of May 1961. But it would be a mistake to dismiss this song as a curiosity or a novelty: Listen to the simple piano break … those 16 bars changed the way a lot of music was made.

It may not seem very special today, but in 1961 Toussaint's distinctive New Orleans-style gospel piano progression caught the ear of musicians and fans alike, and it was the precursor to similar piano signatures in songs throughout the '60s. Just ask Detroit’s Little Stevie Wonder ... or anyone who recorded in Memphis, Muscle Shoals or Macon.

So you see, this "Mother-in-Law" -- like so many others -- changed the way things were done.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A brief history of the Beatles

Paste this link a new window and read on:

Years before it became a base camp for the masterminds of 9/11 (or lucky bastards, depending on your view), Hamburg was a city that helped spawn the Beatles. The lads spent two years, off and on, honing their performance skills at clubs in the German city. It wasn't pretty, but it was a gig.

To get a glimpse of what the band was peforming, check out this set list from the Star-Club in 1962.  Although John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been writing songs since the late Fifties, these performances consisted mainly of covers, including a few memorable ones that would be recorded later and put on vinyl.  (Lead vocals are in parentheses):

"I Saw Her Standing There" (McCartney)
"Roll Over Beethoven" (Harrison)
"Hippy Hippy Shake" (McCartney)
"Sweet Little Sixteen" (Lennon)
"Lend Me Your Comb" (Lennon)
"Your Feet's Too Big" (McCartney)
"Red Sails in the Sunset" (McCartney)
"Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" (Harrison)
"Matchbox" (Lennon)
"Talkin' 'Bout You" (Lennon)
"Shimmy Shimmy" (McCartney)
"Long Tall Sally" (McCartney)
"I Remember You" (McCartney)
"I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You)" (Lennon)
"Where Have You Been All My Life" (Lennon)

"Twist and Shout" (Lennon)
"Mr. Moonlight" (Lennon)
"A Taste of Honey" (McCartney)
"Besame Mucho" (McCartney)
"Reminiscing" (Harrison)
"Kansas City" (McCartney)
"Nothin' Shakin' But the Leaves On a Tree" (Harrison)
"To Know Her is to Love Her" (Harrison or Lennon)
"Little Queenie" (McCartney)
"Falling in Love Again" (McCartney)
"Ask Me Why" (Lennon)
"Hallelujah I Love Her So" (club manager Horst Fascher)
"Be-Bop-A-Lula" (Fred Fascher, Horst's brother)
"Till There Was You" (McCartney)
"Sheila" (Harrison)

The group's first recording as a backing band, "My Bonnie," was made in Germany and put on the Polydor label as Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers, with Pete Best on drums. A year later -- on this very date in 1962 -- the boys were back in London nailing down a final cut of "Love Me Do" as the Beatles, with session drummer Andy White behind the kit and Ringo playing tambourine. Or so the story goes.

It would take nearly two years for the song to hit No. 1 in America, and was the Beatles' fourth chart-topper here following "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You" and "Can't Buy Me Love."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

BP was a gas

We never bought into "The Fifth Beatle" title bestowed on Billy Preston, even if the idea came from John Lennon. The Beatles, by this time in 1969, were not long for the world.  As Paul McCartney noted: The band was going bad enough with just four members.

That doesn't mean we didn't appreciate BP's contributions to the group or more broadly to the music world in which he contributed greatly. Two of his R&B songs were crossover No. 1s on the Billboard pop chart: "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing."

And Preston's presence in the Let It Be sessions may have saved the day for the fractious Beatles, whose infighting was threatening to keep the record from becoming reality.

The clip we'd like to share with you today, however, is from the George Harrison tribute concert at Royal Albert Hall in 2002 on the anniversary of Harrison's death.  Preston and Harrison were good buds, and Preston handles "My Sweet Lord" with sweet style and grace. Click here to check it out as we hoist a tall one to members of today's Birthday Band:

Otis Redding (1941-1967): Singer
(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay

Inez Foxx (1942): Singer
Mockingbird (with brother Charlie)

Dee Dee Sharp (1945): Singer
Mashed Potato Time, Do the Bird, Slow Twistin’ (with Chubby Checker)

Doug Ingle (1946): Keyboards, Iron Butterfly

Billy Preston (1946-2006): Singer, keyboards
Will It Go Round in Circles, Nothing from Nothing, Get Back (with Beatles)

Freddy Weller (1947): Guitar, Paul Revere and the Raiders
Kicks, Just Like Me, Hungry

David Stewart (1952): Guitar/keyboards, Eurythmics
Sweet Dreams, Who’s That Girl, Right by Your Side

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No flash in the pan

Long ago, it must be ... I have a photograph ...

We found this fuzzy image and it's easy to identify the fellow on the right.  But who were those other guys?

Must have been The Three Flashes.

Long before American Idol there was Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.  And before television there was Major Bowe's Amateur Hour on station WOR.  And on this day in 1935, at the Capitol Theatre in New York City, the Hoboken Four snagged the top prize: a six-month contract to appear on radio and stage.

They couldn't call him Ol' Blue Eyes yet (he was only 19), but Francis Albert Sinatra was on his way. Who WERE those other guys, and what happened to them?  As we look for help click here and listen to the group's recording from the Original Amateur Hour.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Don't lift a finger today

Except to click on this song...

Hey hey the working man, the working man like me
I ain't never been on welfare, that's the one place I won't be
Cause I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use
I drink a little beer in the tavern

Sing a little bit of these working man blues

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A fuzzy Sunday sermon

We're not preaching at the Sanctuary when we say you gotta have a friend in Jesus.  We're just repeating something Norman Greenbaum told us 40 years ago, and it's still the fuzz-bustin' truth today...

By Wayne Shelor

Open this link in another tab:

I've always loved the sound of distorted electric guitars, from Jimi Hendrix's angry and searing attack-mode signature to the "two slightly distorted guitars" on Michael Oldfield's album, “Tubular Bells.”

But for your Six String Sanctuary Sunday sermon, I bring to you this morning a fuzz-bustin' guitar riff that's as every bit as recognizable 40 years after its release as is the writer is anonymous.

“Spirit in the Sky” was released in 1970 by a guy named Norman Greenbaum, a 28-year-old Massachusetts singer-songwriter who'd been in a California jug band called Dr. West's Medicine Show. Maybe you recall that band’s mid-60's hit, “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”?

Greenbaum, a Jewish lad, had seen a country crooner singing a gospel song on TV, and was moved to try his hand at writing his own song of praise; “Spirit in the Sky” was Greenbaum’s offering to the choirs of gospel.

In any case, “Spirit in the Sky” -- built on a backbone of a distorted lead guitar and fleshed out with jubilant vocals and handclaps -- was a real attention-getter on the radio since the fuzzed-up guitar begins in the right channel, is quickly joined by the bass in the middle and then the drums and handclaps jump in from the left channel. This construction created a rudimentary stereo soundstage, but it was the sonic production - and the church-like call-and-response singing from opposite channels – that helped this song reach out and lift listeners.

“Spirit in the Sky” sold over a million copies in America in the early 1970s, and reached the top of the British charts twice: once with Greenbaum's original version, and again in 1986 with a version done by the English group Doctor and the Medics; perhaps you recall their synoptic gospel remake?

A one-hit wonder whose song was featured prominently in the Tom Hanks '90s movie, Apollo 13, Norman Greenbaum eventually used the monies from “Spirit in the Sky” to purchase a California dairy farm, where he continues to milk royalties from a wonderful little song that became popular around the world. He lives there still.

Sanctuary special contributor Wayne Shelor knows how to milk these columns for all they're worth.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sustain this!

It's coming and you won't want to miss it if you're in our neck of the woods:  The Full Moon Festival and Urban Sustainability Fair!

We're all about sustainability -- urban or otherwise -- so count us in.  Now, admittedly, the big draw for us will be the music of Those XCleavers.  These guys are known more for reverb and feedback than sustain, but if someone could figure out how to channel their energy we could pretty much power our next neighborhood block party.

The event is Sept. 24-25 with the Cleavers plugging in Friday at 6 p.m. We love the email that states "this event is FREE except for the band as you know how that goes."

We know how it goes, so we'll be there! It's $5 -- cheap! -- and BYOB to Weber's Greenhouses, 4215 N. Green Bay Ave. There will also be keggers from the Ale House.

Friday, September 3, 2010

R.I.P. Paste

We, um, 'borrowed' this cool graphic.
Paste is past. 

Music and entertainment mags are risky propositions these days.  Somehow Rolling Stone gathers no mas while other pubs bite the dust.  No Depression, now that one hurt more than the others.  It was the pipeline to, and the pulse of, alt-country music (whatever that is, as they put in their mast). 

Paste?  It was a good rag, although we never went as far as to take out a subscription. They had some excellent writer and designers, and they published helpful information, but in the end they probably tried to do too much.  When you attempt to broaden your audience (read: broaden your advertising base) you risk everything. And in the end for these publications to survive they have to stay within their niche.  And maybe that's impossible to do without capturing revenue outside of the niche.  A Catch-22.  Doomed to fail. 

We don't know, we just blog. We aren't beholden to anybody, and that helps us sleep at night.  It doesn't mean we don't mourn the loss of publications that promote music in any way, shape or form.  So goodbye Paste, we'll miss you. And good luck to the people who made it happen. But it's an old song by now to hear that you'll continue to be a presence online.  Many of us here at the Sanctuary are newspaper dinosaurs, man.  Love that ink on paper.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Their people (mostly), their list

John Lennon: Best of the Beatles.
The BBC being the respected broadcasting operation that it is, well, we expect a little bit more.  But this list of the 100 Greatest Britons is like so many other lists we come across. It stinks.  Yet flawed as it may be, we feel a responsibility to share the musical connections with devoted readers at the Sanctuary.  We apologize this took eight years. 

To give you a taste of the insanity we now share the Top 5:

1. Sir Winston Churchill
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel
3. Princess Diana
4. Charles Darwin
5. William Shakespeare

Shakespeare ranking below Mr. Brunel, a 19th century civic engineer, tells us something is awry. But remember, it's just another stupid list. Armed with this information and 3 quid you could secure a pint of Guinness in any London pub.  And now on to music and, specifically, where the Fab Four can be found on the esteemed collection of greatest Britons:

8. John Lennon
19. Sir Paul McCartney
62. George Harrison

Ringo?  He was not as fortunate as David Bowie (29), Boy George (46), Freddy Mercury of Queen (58), Bob Geldof (75), Bono (86) and John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten (87).  Small point, but Geldof and Bono are much more Irish than dozens of noteworthy Brits who were left off the list, like Eric Clapton and Sir Elton John, to name just two.  Right-o, it's not a list of musicians.  Thank heavens for that.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turning the beat around

It's time to reveal a dirty little secret here at the Sanctuary.  We like ... disco.  But it's not what you think.  Just as every movie, no matter how dreadful, has some redeeming qualities, so too does every musical genre.

Remember all those records they destroyed on Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in 1979? We were on board for that. Burn, baby, burn. The more the merrier.

We didn't care much at all for disco, except one song:  Vicki Sue Robinson's 1976 Grammy-nominated "Turn the Beat Around." And we didn't even like that until 1994 when it was immortalized by a mere mention in the movie Reservoir Dogs. 

Two years later Gloria Estefan shifted the song into another gear by adding some four-on-the-floor Latin flavor. And it was, well, pretty OK. And now here we are today on Estefan's 53rd birthday, turning that song upside down in her honor. Hey, it's not like we're running out to a resale shop to look for polyester flares. But they would look mighty nice on today's Birthday Band honorees:

Boxcar Willie (1931-1999): The Singing Hobo
Not the Man I Used to Be

Conway Twitty (1933-1993): Country singer
It’s Only Make Believe, Hello Darlin’, You’ve Never been this Far Before

Dave White (1940): Singer, Danny & the Juniors
At the Hop, Rock and Roll is Here to Stay

Barry Gibb (1946): Singer, Bee Gees
Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, How Deep Is Your Love, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

Greg Errico (1946): Drums, Sly and the Family Stone
Everyday People, (I Want to Take You) Higher, Dance to the Music, Hot Fun in the Summertime

Gloria Estefan (1957): Queen of Latin Pop
Abriendo Puertas, Don’t Want to Lose You, Turn the Beat Around