Sunday, October 31, 2010

Come along if you can

By Wayne Shelor

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In April 1968, a Detroit-based band called The Amboy Dukes released its second album. It was nothing to speak of chartwise, but the album’s same-titled single -- " Journeyto the Center of the Mind" -- became a song immediately associated with the advent of heavy metal music and psychedelic lyricism.

And it’s a song forever tied to the man responsible for its distinctive guitar histrionics: Ted Nugent, the Motor City Madman.

A heavy yet melodic song -- tune and tearin’-it-up by Ted, lyrics by rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer --  "Journey to the Center of the Mind" always invokes the portent of wide-eyed doom, what with its incessant bass line holding you down while the guitar delivers shot after shot after shot as the echoey lyrics swirl and seduce … so this is acid?

Nugent, his trademark Gibson Byrdland guitar in full-fretted attack mode, created one of the '60’s most memorable storming-the-parapets-of-convention songs. And he introduced to a rising generation of would-be rock stars a three-minute, thirty-second primer of primal playing that included two lead guitar solos.

Take a look at the “video” accompanying this song, made 15 years before the dawn of MTV: it’s not from a live show, but rather compiled from several studio takes, so someone was ahead of the curve, making this look like a performance from a program such as American Bandstand. The band mimes the song – accompanied by the requisite go-go girls - and there’s even “dance choreography” (watch Ted and lead singer John Drake, who must have stolen Tommy James’ performing outfit, turn around to play to the camera).

"Journey to the Center of the Mind" will forever be known – quite legitimately - as a guitar song, but what I find most remarkable is the galloping bottom. If someone told me Amboy bassist Greg Arama’s bass line was really played by another Detroit musician - James Jamerson of Motown’s house band, The Funk Brothers - I would have believed it without question.

I invariably find myself a bit bruised after listening to this song at high volume; why it may be the black-and-bluest song in history of recorded music. And although Nugent had several other charting songs in his here-and-there career, his first psychedelic hit (so to speak) will always be the high point of his legacy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

After the flood

Found! Saved by a snarl of branches 50 feet from the river.
JIMINY SPRUCE ACRES -- We are back this weekend in search of the Lost Bench.
It is a small, simple wood-and-pipe bench that was constructed years ago by my father, who was always tinkering around with a project. He made one bench for each of his children, and this one wound up on the family land and was mentioned in a previous blog:

 My father purchased this land more than 30 years ago, with plans to build a modest home just above the river floodplain. It never got done, but we are not ready to abandon his dream. On Friday we took a wooden bench he built years ago and placed it on the sandy bank above the Trempealeau, a great perch from which to watch the river flow, read a good book and contemplate our small places in the universe.

Last month during the Great Flood of 2010 the usually peaceful Trempealeau River became a raging torrent that made national news by nearly swallowing the town of Arcadia 16 miles downstream and flooding everything in between.  Somewhere between here and there we hope to find the bench and haul it back home.  It's a longshot, which will make the recovery even more glorious.

UPDATE: The bench was located, miraculously upright in a thicket of branches, at 11:13 a.m. CDT.  Just before finding it we spotted a large whitetail buck with an impressive rack of antlers, making its way down Boy Scout Hill with a doe tailing closely, hoping to cross North River Road into JS Acres.  A glorious day indeed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Color of Mole

Our friend Rick is now coloring his Holy Mole comic strip for some of his new clients.  At first we were skeptical, as when Ted Turner began to colorize classic black and white films.  As Orson Welles stated on his death bed, " Don't let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons."

Now Holy Mole is not Cititzen Cane, but after reviewing some samples we've decided that a splash of watercolor is not a bad deal. What do you think?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The eighth Wonder of the world

The song that ruled the Billboard pop chart on this day in 1984 would go on to win an Academy Award. You could say the Oscars rocked that year. Consider: All five Oscar nominees for Best Song spent time at No. 1 on the Hot 100:

Ghostbusters, Ray Parker Jr., Ghostbusters
Footloose, Kenny Loggins, Footloose
Let's Hear It For the Boy, Deniese Williams, Footloose
Take a Look at Me Now, Phil Collins, Against All Odds
I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder, The Woman in Red

"I Just Called to Say I Love You" became the 12th single of the rock era to win an Oscar.  It was Wonder's eighth No. 1 hit, and became his first chart-topper in the UK. There are many versions floating around the Web, but the link below represents our favorite recording from an intimate performance at Teddington Studios in London.  (It's had 499,109 views so it wouldn't be hard to push it past a half-mil!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Batter up!

We have no rooting interest in the World Series, which opens tonight in San Francisco.  Giants vs. Rangers?  It's good to have some new blood, and it would be easy to pull for either team. But as we've mentioned before it's almost as important to have a team to root against, and neither of these fine ballclubs provides much of a boo factor.

So let's concentrate on the pregame music.  Our Game 1 starter is John Legend, a curious choice to perform the National Anthem if you like some hometown flavor as we do.  Legend is an Ohio native.  Next up will be the Nashville's Lady Antebellum.  Who knows, maybe they'll knock it out of the park.

Nothing against these acts, but to get juiced for this Series we would have dialed it up a notch with Glenn Donnellan, a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra who does the best instrumental of "The Star Spangled Banner" this side of Jimi Hendrix -- on an electrified Louisville Slugger.  Check it out.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Houston, we have a problem

Gladys Knight & the Pips had only one No. 1 hit, and it was ready to rule the charts at this time 37 years ago.  Here was the Billboard Top 5 from this week in 1973:

1. Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & the Pips
2. Angie, Rolling Stones
3. Half-Breed, Cher
4. Ramblin' Man, Allman Brothers Band
5. Keep on Truckin', Eddie Kendricks

It's an amazing record, but we wonder how amazing it would have been if songwriter Jim Weatherly's original title and lyrics hadn't been changed from "Midnight Plane to Houston."

That's the song Weatherly had written in a country vein, hoping that Glen Campbell would record it.  (Campbell, you'll recall, had a couple of "citified" hits in "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman.")   The song eventually wound up in the hands of someone actually named Houston -- Whitney Houston's mother Cissy --who took it onto the R&B chart, but not before her producer, a fellow by the name of Sonny Limbo, was given permission to make the key word changes.

If you're wondering how the song fell into Gladys Knight's hands, Weatherly had penned the Pips' "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)", which made it to No. 2 on the Hot 100 earlier that year.  He also contributed "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," another top 10 single for the group.

Because this sounds almost too bizarre to be true, we almost hesitate to mention that the original lyrics were inspired by a phone conversation between Weatherly and Farrah Fawcett, a Texas native who mentioned she was going to take a midnight plane to visit her folks in Houston.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The fondest of farewells

By Wayne Shelor

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I was a newspaperman for most of the 1980s, a job that brought me immense satisfaction and pride. There was a quiet nobility in newspapering, writing -- as we did -- the “first draft” of history. One of the most important yet widely avoided tasks at newspapers in the 1980s was obituary writing – the “last look.”

Writing a good obit took time, talent and an open and inquisitive mind. Newspapers such as the New York Times have specialists who’ve assembled a literal library of pre-death obituaries prepared for the famous, the revered and the celebrated, capturing their lives, their exploits and their successes.

I tell you this because we’re gonna look at an “obituary” this morning, an album called The Last Waltz by The Band. The Last Waltz is a document that captures, like every well-penned obituary, the noteworthy events of the life of the group, and pulls together moments, memories and the magic that was … The Band.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese chronicled the night of The Last Waltz -- his movie heralded as one of the greatest concert films of all time -- capturing not only the concert but countless interviews as the band and others reminisce about the group’s history, its impact on culture and the end of a group that changed popular music.

The Last Waltz (my preferred version of the original triple LP is the 2002 4-CD boxed set by Rhino Records) was The Band’s farewell concert, performed on Thanksgiving night in 1976, where a turkey dinner was served to all 5,000 attendees at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. More musicians than you might find at the Grammys each year joined The Band for a five-hour concert that wound from this song, "Stagefright," to "Up On Cripple Creek" and "Chest Fever" to Marvin Gaye’s "Don’t Do It."

Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins, who were instrumental in the group’s earliest work and growth, were among the many luminaries who sang swan songs and helped eulogize the men who’d created a synthesis of Americana, roots and rock.

From their first LP, Music From Big Pink, across 10 studio albums, through 16 years of touring and culminating on the night of The Last Waltz, The Band played in a language all its own, but one understood by everyone. It was a sound imbued with equal parts Appalachia and Memphis, Harlem and New Orleans: a countrified rock ‘n’ roll stitched with the dignity and honesty of history revealed.

By design, their final concert was performed at the place the musicians first played as The Band: San Fran’s Winterland Ballroom. And after that Thanksgiving night concert, the original five man lineup -- four Canadians and an Arkansas boy - never played as The Band again.

I know of no other “obituary” that is such a perfect, all-encompassing testament to the life and times of an American institution as is The Band’s The Last Waltz.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Another Sonny in the Sanctuary

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We perk up when we see the word "underappreciated" attached to any artist. Did we miss something?  So often we have, as in the case of jazz saxophonist Sonny Criss. In music the hunt is always on to discover a new or forgotten sound, and possibly correct an oversight. So on we went...

We thought we had something by Criss. The name is familiar, but jazzmen and bluesmen named Sonny are like dogs named Spike.  There have been lots of them.  The Sanctuary's modest but ever expanding library of jazz includes several albums by saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt, but no Sonny Criss. We openly reveal this oversight and intend to fill the void.  (Are there any other Sonnys out there we should hear from?)

There he is in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette, sandwiched between pianist Marilyn Crispell (no) and bandleader Bob Crosby (yes), leading with this confusing but nonetheless compelling paragraph:

Criss was perhaps a little too tightly wrapped for the destiny that seemed to await him. Although it was the altogether more robust Sonny Stitt -- with whom Criss is occasionally confused -- to whom Charlie Parker promised "the keys of the Kingdom," it was Criss out on the West Coast who inherited most of the ambiguities of Parker's legacy.

Criss would have been 83 years old today, but he didn't make it nearly that long.  In 1977, suffering from stomach cancer, he shot himself in the head.  He was 50.  If you didn't take time to click the link above, do so now for Criss' wonderful rendering of "On a Clear Day."

Friday, October 22, 2010

The night they drove Miss Piggy down

Plain and simple, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is one of our favorite songs of all time. The Band put it into play on their second album in 1969 and gave a stirring rendition on the splendid rockumentary The Last Waltz which will be covered in greater detail on Sunday at the Sanctuary.  (How's that for foreshadowing??!!)  It also appeared on the B side of the single "Up On Cripple Creek."

Although Canadian Robbie Robertson took the songwriting credit, "Dixie" was co-written by drummer Levon Helm, whose earthy Southern voice gave the song its chilling tone.  You want to record a historical song about the South, go to the one Southerner in the group.

Nobody will ever top the Band's version of "Dixie," but that hasn't stopped many other artists from covering it, including Johnny Cash, Richie Havens and more recently the Black Crowes.  But only one artist, Joan Baez, received a gold record for it on this day in 1971.  It had risen to No. 3 on the Billboard chart earlier in October, becoming the highest charting song of her career.

Baez was criticized for altering the lyrics (she may have learned the song by listening to the Band's record without consulting a lyric sheet), but that's a small quibble.  The historical accuracy and meaning of the original lyrics will be debated until the end of time.  It's a great song, and a great cover by Baez.

Our treat for you today is a clip of Baez singing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" on the Muppet Show.  Who knew Beauregarde could play a mouth harp!  Go ahead and click:

(We're pretty sure this is the only Gandhi joke ever told on the Muppet Show.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Ding-A-Ling Thing

Once I was swimming across Turtle Creek
Man them turtles snapping at my feet
It sure was hard swimming cross that thing
With both hands holding my ding a ling a ling

It is a curious bit of rock lore that Chuck Berry's only No. 1 song was not one of his ground-breaking rockers, but the rude and raucous "My Ding-A-Ling."  Ladies and gentlemen, here was the Billboard Top 5 on this very day in 1972:

1. My Ding-A-Ling, Chuck Berry
2. Use Me, Bill Withers
3. Burning Love, Elvis Presley
4. Everybody Plays the Fool, Main Ingredient
5. Nights in White Satin, Moody Blues

At least Berry had a No. 1.  He certainly deserved it, having ushered in the rock era with classics like "Maybellene," "Rock and Roll Music," "Johnny B. Goode" and "Sweet Little Sixteen." 

"My Ding-A-Ling" may have been a novelty tune, but Berry -- recording it live in England, where he was a big draw  -- gave it just the right mischievous treatment to make it appeal to the masses.  Word is he showed up late and in bad shape for that show, which adds even more to the song's allure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zero to 60 in no time flat

Tom Petty is sixty years old today. Six-Oh. 60.  Can you believe it?  Still rocking after all these years. We need guideposts like this.  When you wake up in the morning and you're struggling to get your tired bones out of bed, you need to be able to say to yourself:

I may be feeling pretty old today, but I'll NEVER be as old as Tom Petty!

Petty's recent tour, which played to rave reviews from start to finish, concluded earlier this month so hopefully he's taking a blow to recharge the batteries.  His new album Mojo, which we've hailed as one of the best of 2010, is in the player today (it has rarely come out).

Next up is the November re-release of Damn the Torpedoes, which has been remastered from the orginial analog tapes and will include nine bonus tracks.  Damn, indeed!  Check out the video below to Petty's website and get ready for some more good times.  And don't forget to toast the other members of today's Birthday Bird:

Grandpa Jones (1913-1998): Country Music Hall of Famer
Hee Haw, Grand Ole Opry

Wanda Jackson (1937): Singer
Right or Wrong, Let’s Have a Party, In the Middle of a Heartache

Jay Siegel (1939): Singer, the Tokens
Tonight I Fell in Love, The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Ric Lee (1945): Drummer, Ten Years After
I’m Going Home, Love like a Man

Tom Petty (1950): Singer, songwritger
Don’t Do Me Like That, Refugee, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Al Greenwood (1951): Keyboards, Foreigner
Feels Like the First Time, Cold as Ice, Hot Blooded, Double Vision

Snoop Doggy Dogg (1971): Rapper
LPs: Doggystyle, The Doggfather, No Limit Top Dogg

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Live, from the Sanctuary ...

Get your needles ready and listen up: The Sanctuary's resident audiophile Wayne Shelor is about to reveal his list of the best damn live albums in the history of mankind. Or at least his personal favorites.  Is there a difference?

By Wayne Shelor

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That single – and singular – ping! that begins this song is Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright hitting a piano note run through an organ Leslie speaker, introducing the 1970 song "Echoes." This live version of the venerable song is from Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s 2008 solo tour and album, Live in Gdansk, and is shared this morning as an example of an extraordinary live recording – of which there are comparatively few. As the song unfolds, listen to the crisp piano notes, the gorgeous guitar tones, the unmuddied drums and the wide, unsullied scope of sound as various instruments and vocals are introduced and integrated. It’s not easy to capture live performances, but even on computer speakers, this recording sounds special.

With the recent re-release of two time-honored live recordings – both remastered – I thought we’d pay homage to live albums this Sunday morning. I've been listening at length to Little Feat’s remarkable 1978 live Waiting For Columbus, re-released a few weeks ago by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, one of the premier remastering labels. I’ve also spent hours with the four-CD Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Live With Eric Clapton, an enjoyable time trip back to 1970, tho’ it’s not in the same league sonically as Live in Gdansk or Little Feat’s album.

When it was released in 1976, I thought Bob Seger’s Live Bullet was incredible. Now, with scores of well-produced live albums behind me, I realize it’s an imposter. There’s so much involved in accurately capturing a live moment, transferring it to playback media and having it sound good as well as sounding live, that there’s a dearth of sonically elegant recordings.

To be sure, live albums such as Cheap Trick’s At Budokan, the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas and Government Mule’s The Deepest End are fun, if flawed, listens. And albums such as The Doors’ Absolutely Live, Warren Zevon’s Stand in the Fire and Nirvana’s Live at Reading are important historical captures, even if they’re … uneven.

When you get right down to it, a good live recording is one that touches something inside of each of us, and it’s a different experience for all. My favourite live recordings (based largely on the sound rather than the moment or the event) are:

The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, The Who’s Live at Leeds, the above-mentioned Little Feat double album, James Brown’s Live at The Apollo, Porcupine Tree’s Coma Divine, The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, Jeff Beck’s Live at Ronnie Scott's, Tom Petty’s Live Anthology, a just released obscurity, Tony Joe White’s That On The Road Look, Live, and The Band’s The Last Waltz, which we’ll listen to next week.

Perhaps you have some live albums you’ve not played in a while. After church, football, baseball or the outdoor adventure you have planned for today, you might give one a spin. There’s nothing quite like live music, and a good recording of a live performance is a thing of beauty.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A busload of Lou

Lou Reed - Bus load of faith
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Lou Reed. Damn. Who out there saw him at Humpin' Hannas in Milwaukee back in the day?  Or the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis? 

We heard "Busload of Faith" on the Loft yesterday and it brought back some memories.  Hard to believe it has been 21 years since we last saw him, the same year -- 1989 -- he released the album New York.  We were too late to catch the early Velvet Underground train, but as far as we're concerned Lou Reed circa 1989 is as good as he got, and as good as it gets.  We're not alone. Here's what was written about New York on

New York is arguably Lou Reed's greatest hour as a solo artist. A song-cycle about his beloved city in the '80s, Reed adopts a conversational tone to discuss politics, AIDS, romance, TV preachers, and whatever else is on his mind. While his voice never ranges far, the album kicks into high gear with the twin guitar attack of Reed and Mike Rathke, which takes simple, three-chord rock into a truly transcendent space. "Romeo Had Juliette" cruises like a cab down a bumpy avenue, while "Strawman" curls with rage. Like the city that gives it its name, New York never rests.

We love the line "three-chord rock into a truly transcendent space." That's us! You can buy the CD for $10, but if you don't believe the hype do yourself a favor and at least download "Busload of Faith" for a buck. You'll have a nice companion when you hit the gas with the windows down and the open highway stretched out in front of you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pretty one more time...

We're pretty sure we've referenced "Pretty One More Time" by Greg Brown from his Covenant album, but it's irresistible this time of year -- the leaves are turning and the fields are clear.  We're living the lyrics. There's no better time to be here, and to get lost in this beautiful song.

The leaves in my Wauwatosa neighborhood are racing to get off the trees, but there's still plenty of beautiful fall color to behold in Wisconsin, where we take our leaves seriously. Check out the link below to see the annual Fall Color Report and high-tail it here if you can get away.  You won't be sorry.

All the leaves are turning
And the fields are clear
There's a fire burning
I wish you were here

Pretty one more time
Pretty one more time
Before we're down the line
Pretty one more time

And the light is raining
From a midwest sky
I'm all through explaining
Goodbye to goodbye

It's getting dark so early
I walked all afternoon
All i see so clearly
Will be gone so soon

And a dim light beckons
From a roadside bar
I'll stop in i reckon
I have already come this far

Find a place by the window
I've been here before
Babe don't be a no-show
Come on through that door

I'll write you a letter
I know you feel the fall
Things may not get better
But we can always stall

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Stax Sound: Now we're cooking

By Wayne Shelor

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You’ll certainly recognize today’s celebrated song as one of Wilson Pickett’s immortal fist-to-the-face soul classics: “In The Midnight Hour.” You may also find familiar the great spray of horns in the song’s intro and throughout, a brassy sound that was an integral component of the Stax label’s home-cooked soul sound.

What you may not know is that the Stax label, out of Memphis, Tennessee, was founded by a white brother-and-sister team who created the Stax name from the first two letters of their last names: Jim Stewart ... and Estelle Axton. S-T-A-X, arguably the most integrated – literally and figuratively – studio of the 1960s.

Stax was an oasis for black soul artists in the early 1960s, stars such as Booker T. & The MGs, Otis Redding and Eddie Floyd. In the 1970s, as Stax was bought and sold and restructured and its vast catalogue of songs falling into the hands of several other large corporations, its finances were manipulated to the point that the IRS stepped in.

As a viable label, Stax was ... cooked. But its songs live on through continual re-issues, to the financial benefit of musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper, a couple of Stax’s great session men who’ve always preferred to stand on the periphery of the limelight.

Guitarist and songwriter Cropper -- he co-wrote “In The Midnight Hour” with “Wicked” Wilson Pickett -- and bassist Dunn are two of the band members you’ve seen countless times with The Blues Brothers revues and other bands. Cropper and Dunn, a couple of white soul brothers, helped create the musical signatures that define “The Stax Sound.”

So whether it’s the percolating drums, the swaggering bass line or the inimitable horn lines, you should remember that the Stax Sound is the result of a number of great musical chefs cookin’ up aural masterpieces using a tried and true recipe.

You can still find Stax music on the shelves of your local music dealers and all over the Internet. Why not play some when you go to bed – there’s nothing quite as filling as a heapin’ helpin’ of down-home soul. Especially when served up ... at the midnight hour.

Six String Sanctuary contributor and audiophile Wayne Shelor might be found spinning records at any hour of the day or night with that twinkle in his eyes.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Look Ma, no sticks!

Here's how the leader of today's Birthday Band was described in a 1948 article in Drummer World magazine:

“What Jo Jones put down for close to sixty years is timeless: his sense of space and restraint—knowing when to jump in and when to lay out; the endless array of press rolls, rimshots, and timbres that he elicited from his instrument; the way he drove a band; and the hypnotic power of his soloing. Whether demonstrating show- stopping cross-sticking technique or simply making quarter notes swing, his music is not dated. It is stylish and classic.”

We couldn't have been more eloquent, but perhaps more succinct:  Papa Jo Jones was The Man. Check out the video and see for yourself, and tonight raise a glass of cognac -- Papa Jo's favored libation -- and toast today's honorees:

‘Papa’ Jo Jones (1911-1985): Jazz drummer
Played with Count Basie, Bennie Goodman, Coleman Hawkins

Vaughn Monroe (1911-1973): Bandleader, singer
Racing with the Moon, Riders in the Sky, Rum and Coca Cola

Al Martino (1927-2009): Singer
Here in My Heart, Spanish Eyes, Volare

Kevin Godley (1945): Drums, 10cc
Neanderthal Man, Rubber Bullets, The Things We Do for Love

David Hope (1949): Bass, Kansas
Dust in the Wind, Carry On Wayward Son

John Cougar Mellencamp (1951): Singer
Jack and Diane, Hurts So Good, Small Town

Tico Torres (1953): Drums, Bon Jovi
You Give Love a Bad Name, Born to Be My Baby, Love For Sale

Yo-Yo Ma (1955) Cello virtuoso
Obrigado Brazil, Classic Yo-Yo, Bach: Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites

Toni Braxton (1967): Singer
You're Makin' Me High, Un-Break My Heart, He Wasn't Man Enough

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A song for Ginger

Dogs! God how we love them! Even more amazing, how they love us.

For those who have been wondering how Lewie is adapting to his move from Florida to Wisconsin we provide this revealing photo.  Yes, it is possible to race with the wind along a deserted beach in the north country. This image was taken over the weekend along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Our boy is OK.

It's our way of introducing you this morning to a very touching story and song about a beloved dog named Ginger whose master, Charles Walston, has been a good friend through the years and a regular visitor at the Sanctuary. 

Click on the link below to hear the song and view photos of a special companion. We never met Ginger, but we are certain even though she is gone she is racing with the wind to hear the caring warble of her owner.

By Charles Walston

Sixty five years ago this week (October 3, 1945) a 10-year-old boy named Elvis Presley performed in public for the first time when his principal entered him in a children’s singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. According to Peter Guralnick’s definitive biography “Last Train to Memphis,” Elvis dressed up as a cowboy, stood on a chair to reach the microphone, and took fifth place in the competition. .

The song he sang was “Old Shep,” which had been written a few years earlier by the country artist Red Foley in memory of a dog from his boyhood. Presley would later record “Old Shep” in 1956, on his second album for RCA (it was the first recording on which he played piano).

Also in 1956, the Newbery prize for children’s fiction was won by Fred Gipson for his book “Old Yeller.” One year later “Old Yeller” was made into a movie, complete with a song that featured a dog barking in the chorus, and that made millions of people cry.

About a decade later the Byrds recorded “Old Blue” on the underrated “Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde” LP.

What’s the point? Only that songs about dogs – especially tributes to dearly departed dogs – have a proud place in the history of American music, from country to film soundtracks to rock.

I wasn’t even thinking about that five years ago when my beloved dog Ginger died. I was hurting in the worst way and I picked up my guitar and before I knew it I had composed a melody and written the words of a chorus.

I couldn’t get through it without weeping and that was the case for a few years. But this spring I made myself write the verses and I went into a studio with my friend Philip Stevenson, who is a brilliant engineer and bass player. I cut some raw tracks and he played bass. When it was time to sing I brought along my daughter Isabel, who was 7 years old when Ginger died.

Here is the song. It’s the most unpolished recording I have ever put out in public but it might be the most powerful. Such is the bond between dogs and the people who love them.

If you enjoy it, please pass along to any dog lovers you know. Thanks.

Charles Walston is a former newspaperman who has always channeled his reservoir of creative energy into music, most notably while in Atlanta fronting the acclaimed Americana band The Vidalias, and more recently with the D.C.-based Bourbon Dynasty. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Expressway to that Philly sound

By Wayne Shelor

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There’re all sorts of styles and sounds in rock, from the classic to the clangy, garage to grunge, and West Coast to British Invasion. One of my favorite “sounds” is the Sound Of Philadelphia: TSOP.

Two of the coolest cats ever to write and produce records were Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Their strength was in producing records with social dialogue and distinctive, often ambient, sounds of the streets while cultivating a strings-rich style for the songs of a stable of talented artists.

In their heyday -- the mid-'60s to early '70s, a time when it seemed like everybody was young and idealistic -- Gamble and Huff were the very best at using rock music to break down cultural and color barriers.

Black men, Gamble and Huff wrote a song called “Expressway to Your Heart” for a band of white guys called the Soul Survivors – this all happened at the Cameo Parkway Studios in Philadelphia.

”Expressway to Your Heart” was a runaway hit in 1967, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard charts. The genius of “Expressway to Your Heart” was how Gamble and Huff arranged a rhythm & blues song to produce a soul-influenced pop song that America’s white AM radio audience found entertaining.

Gamble & Huff did something similar -- complete with the patented TSOP -- a year later with the release of The Intruders' hit “Cowboys to Girls,” another wonderful Top 10 hit. They were also behind The O’Jay’s “Love Train,” Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and even MFSB’s TSOP (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother’s “The Sound of Philadelphia”), a song you will recall as the theme music for TV’s "Soul Train" dance program.

All that love and fraternity delivered via an “Expressway to Your Heart” ... it's no wonder Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. Of course Philly does have the meanest, most vulgar and unwelcoming sports fans in America. Maybe Gamble and Huff can work up a song about them …

Sanctuary contributor Wayne Shelor, who knows the expressway is not always the best way, would rather ride his bike to the beach.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

They quack us up

Two of the funniest men who ever lived share birthdays on this day: Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and Bud Abbott (1896-1974).  In their honor we share a yuk from the archives of Esquire magazine's A Funny Joke From a Beautiful Woman.*

This duck joke -- have we ever told you we LOVE duck jokes? -- comes from actress Odette Yustman, whose screen credits include Transformers, Walk Hard and The Unborn.  (She delivered her first movie line at age 4 in Kindergarten Cop):

A guy walks into a doctor's office with a duck on his head. The doctor asks, "Can I help you?" The duck says, "Yeah, get this guy off my ass."

* Like the magazine, we cannot guarantee this joke will be funny to everyone.  But almost all of these crack us up.  Go here to read more jokes and learn about the women who tell them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pssst: The new voice and face of Americana

Justin Townes Earle should've been at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz tonight, followed by a date tomorrow at the Depot at Humboldt State.  Instead he's got a date with his demons.

Here is the note that was posted last week on his website:

Justin Townes Earle has decided to suspend the remaining dates on his tour and enter a rehabilitation facility. Earle is strongly committed to confronting his on-going struggle with addiction and thanks his family, friends and fans for their continued support through this difficult time.

That's a helluva note. Any momentum he may have gained touring in support of his terrific new album Harlem River Blues is stalled by an issue not unfamiliar to his family.  The apple, as they say, never falls far from the tree.

The son of Steve Earle has emerged from his father's shadow as an artist -- no easy feat -- but confronting the demons of addiction is a whole different dirty deal.  We have as a reference the unvarnished view of JTE's daddy from Lauren St. John's book Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle.  The father, a notorious drug abuser, was able to pull himself out of a much steeper and frightening tailspin.  We can only hope the son, now 28, gets it together before his life becomes nip and tuck. 

So we'll hope while we listen to that album of great new songs. It has never been easy to describe Americana music, but with Harlem River Blues -- released just two weeks ago -- a more precise definition emerges.  It's the music of Justin Townes Earle, a spiritual and deeply effecting journey through urban minefields and life's challenging moments.  Make no mistake, Steve Earle is the artist's father but Woody Guthrie is his hero.

Lord, I'm goin' uptown to the Harlem River to drown

Dirty water gonna cover me over and I'm not gonna make a sound

Meanwhile you can cross off next Saturday's show at First Avenue in Minneapolis and forget about his appearance here at Turner Hall in Milwaukee the following week. In all 21 dates in the U.S. and another 10 in the UK have been scrapped.  What a lousy, miserable deal for everyone, but especially for Justin Townes Earle.

Harlem River Blues goes up now on the PSSST (Personal Six String Sancutary Tout) board.