Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A long run to No. 1

Beautiful faces and loud empty places
Look at the way that we live
Wastin' our time on cheap talk and wine

Left us so little to give

Not our favorite Eagles song by a long stretch, "Best of My Love" was released as a single on this date in 1974 and took its sweet time climbing the charts, finally hitting No. 1 in March the following year.  It was the first of five chart-toppers for the band.

"Best of My Love" has been a popular song at weddings, but did anybody take time to check the lyrics?  You might as well play "Heartache Tonight,"  which also ascended to No. 1.  Can you name the other three?  Shouldn't be too hard...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And in the beginning ...

By Wayne Shelor

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 I’ve always believed the best place to start is the beginning, so this Sunday morning we’re gonna listen to the very beginning of rock.

It could be the subject matter that makes so many folks believe that “Rocket 88” was the first rock ‘n’ roll record. Of course it could be where the song was recorded, at Sam Phillips’ famous Sun Studios in Memphis. And an argument might be made that it was the participation of one Ike Turner that lends credence to “Rocket 88” being heralded as the First Record of Rock.

But whatever the legend, whatever the belief, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats made history – and a lasting legacy and contribution – with the April 1951 release of “Rocket 88.”

The immediate popularity of “Rocket 88” heralded the beginning of a new kind of music … a lyric-laden, beat-driven integration of multiple musical roots … a type of music that was hard to define, but you knew it when you heard it. Built on a construct of standard 12-bar blues, “Rocket 88” was imbued with the sound of the ghetto: the sexual entwining of twin horns moaning, the raucousness of a wailing trumpet and the constant tickling of the other 88, the piano keys.

Almost 60 years ago, “Rocket 88” changed the way popular music was made and marketed, and this was years before white boys began writing car songs such as “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Hot Rod Lincoln,” “Pink Cadillac” “G.T.O” or even the Beatles' “Drive My Car.”

Ol’ Ike was onto somethin’ special early on. But today, we call it rock ‘n’ roll, in all its various guises and disguises.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Remembering a Brother

"I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can. I will take love wherever I find it and offer it to everyone who will take it -- seek knowledge from those wiser -- and teach those who wish to learn from me."

So reads the stone epitath at Duane Allman's gravesite in Macon, Georgia.  Skydog would have been 64 today.  He was our favorite blues guitarist, bar none, and his music catalog is as impressive as they come for someone who died before his 25th birthday. 

Play some Allman Brothers today, preferably Live at the Fillmore East, nothing later than Eat Peach, which was released the year after Duane's death in a motorcycle accident and was "Dedicated to a Brother."  The last three songs on Eat a Peach  -- "Stand Back," "Blue Sky" and "Little Martha" -- were cut by the full band.

Eat a peach, if you can find one.  The expression is taken from a quote attributed to Duane when asked how he was going to help the revolution.  "I'm hitting a lick for peace -- and every time I'm in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace," he said.

Read Randy Poe's excellent biography Skydog: The Duane Allman Story.

Discover some of his memorable session work with artists like Otis Rush, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, John Hammond, Clarence Carter and Delaney & Bonnie. You can hear many of them on Duane Allman: an anthology.

Pick up a guitar and learn to play "Melissa."

Remember Skydog.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ahead of his time

Oh, our hot lips kissing
Girl, I'll beg mercy
Oh, hugging and more teasing
Don't want no freezing

A-work with me, Annie
Let's get it while the gettin' is good

Those lyrics from the Hank Ballard classic "Work With Me Annie" provide a pretty good understanding why mainstream radio wasn't interested in playing R&B music back in the day. It was 1954, after all, and suggestive lyrics like that just weren't going to cut it, especially coming from the mouth of a black artist.

"Work With Me Annie" did become a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart, so as Steve Earle can sing today with nobody even paying attention, "F*** the FCC."

Ballard was the real deal, an early rock 'n' roller who could make 'em squeal.  "If you're looking for youth, you're looking for longevity, just take a dose of rock 'n' roll—it keeps you going," Ballard once said. "Just like the caffeine in your coffee, rock 'n' roll is good for the soul, for the well being, for the psyche, for your everything. I love it. I can't even picture being without rock 'n'roll.''

Our kind of guy. He eventually got his due, scoring a pair of Billboard top 10 pop songs with the Midnighters ("Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" and "Finger Poppin' Time"). And Chubby Checker never would have had a No. 1 with "The Twist" without Ballard, who wrote it for the flip side of his "Teardrops on Your Letter."

Ballard was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and died of throat cancer in 2003. He would have been 83 today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A fine guitarist, Barre none

When we recall our introduction to Jethro Tull it was all about the theatrical voice of Ian Anderson and the incredible flute that wafted through our college domicile on Badger Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  So strong was Anderson's presence it was easy to overlook the excellent guitar work on the album Aqualung. 

And yet there it is. Martin Barre, whose name rarely is mentioned in discussions about great rock guitarists, provided a memorable solo on "Aqualung" and has been with Anderson almost since the start, having replaced Mick Abrahams in the band way back in 1969. 

We thought, it being Barre's birthday and all, it was time to shine the spotlight on him.  Two other members of today's Birthday Band, Gordon Lightfoot and Gene Clark, have previously been covered.

Get a load of these November 17 babies:

Gordon Lightfoot (1938): Songwriter
Sundown, If You Could Read My Mind, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Gene Clark (1941-1991): Musician, The Byrds and New Christy Minstrels
Turn, Turn, Turn, She Don't Care About Time, Eight Miles High

Bob Gaudio (1942) Singer, Royal Teens and Four Seasons
Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk like a Man, Rag Doll

Martin Barre (1946): Guitar, Jethro Tull
Aqualung, Cross-Eyed Mary, Living in the Past

Ronnie DeVoe (1967): Singer, New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe
Gangsta, Do Me, Poison

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We think they're alone now

Back in 1987 while we were grooving on John Hiatt's underappreciated album Bring the Family, a strange thing happened on the Billboard chart.  Two of Tommy James and the Shondells' songs were lining up for consecutive runs at No. 1. 

Only thing is, neither song was by the Shondells.

On Nov. 7 Tiffany began a two-week run at No. 1 with her remake of "I Think We're Alone Now," which 20 years earlier the Shondells had taken to No. 4.  Then two weeks later Billy Idol scored a chart-topper with his cover of "Mony Mony," a song originally inspired by the Mutual of New York sign visible from James' NYC apartment.

It's the only time we're aware of that remakes have been back-to-back No. 1s, useful trivia that could win you a bar bet.

(The Shondells had two No. 1s, "Hanky Panky" in '66 and "Crimson and Clover" two years later.)

While Tiffany and Idol enjoyed their No. 1 runs in 1987 with James songs, their music hasn't exactly stood the test of time, not like some landmark albums from '87 such as U2's Joshua Tree, Prince's Sign 'O' the Times, Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love, Paul Simon's Graceland and we would add the aforementioned Bring the Family.  And if you happened to be living in the Twin Cities at the time, a band by the name of the Replacements made you very proud of the local music scene with Pleased to Meet Me.

So don't feel bad if were too preoccupied at the time to notice those Tommy James covers.  In fact, it's quite OK to feel very, very good.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The fraternal family of funk

By Wayne Shelor

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We share, this glorious Sunday morning (well it's glorious  here in Florida), two minutes of fabulous funk and fraternity that defined a generation, even though the gentle vibe and fearless philosophy died right along with the decade that gave a generation so much hope.

Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 No. 1 hit "Everyday People" was one of the most significant evolutionary left turns in popular music history; there was nothing like it before Sly, and most black, soul and urban music written since was influenced by the Family Stone.

Reared in a God-fearin’ church-goin’ music-playin’ family -- and a celebrated musical prodigy as a child -- Sly assembled his Family Stone band by including a close friend, three of his four siblings and a couple of white musicians; the validity of the Family Stone’s songs about love and brotherhood was never doubted.

Released in November 1968, "Everyday People" was, by early 1969, the top-rated song on both Billboard’s Pop and Soul charts, and the lyric “Different strokes for different folks” became more than a passing mantra, it became a cultural touchstone. The Family Stone’s horns, harmonies and hope dazzled a nation that danced to the music, and they took millions of celebrants higher and higher with their novel music.

Rock probably never knew a more optomistic man than Sylvester Stewart (Sly’s given name), who – once he took the Syd Barrett/Brian Wilson/Roky Erickson path to burnout – slipped into the dark void of drug abuse and mental instability. Sly’s shooting star burned out so quickly, many people forget that Sly and the Family Stone tore up the Woodstock festival with their incandescent pre-dawn performance in August 1969.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dearly departed in Detroit

Donations helped secure a marker for Florence Ballard of
the Supremes, who is buried in Detroit Memorial Park East.
Not to be morbid, but my colleague from Detroit has shared a link to a website revealing a fascinating look at resting places for some of his hometown's dearly departed musicians.

You don't have to be from Detroit, or even Michigan, to appreciate the wealth of information provided on artists both obscure and famous, many of whom have been all-but-forgotten over the years.

Kudos to the Detroit News for "Chorus of Angels: Here lie the people who shaped Detroit's musical heritage."  You can get lost for hours rediscovering artists like Renaldo "Obie" Benson of the Four Tops or hearing obscure cuts like "Rock and Roll Grandpap" by country crooner Don Rader.  Here's the link:


Just click on a cemetery and run your mouse over the mug shots for information on those interred.  For instance, a tour of Woodlawn reveals 19 notable "residents," including Earl Van Dyke (July 18, 1930-Sept. 81, 1992), leader and keyboard player of the Funk Brothers. You can read a short short bio of Van Dyke and hear a sample of a record he played on ("My Guy" by Mary Wells).  There's also a printable PDF map of each cemetery for folks who wanted to pay their onsite respects.

If we ever get back to Detroit we'd like to visit Memorial Park East, the resting place of Florence Ballard.  The former member of the Supremes is one of rock's great tragedies, living her final years in poverty and passing tragically at the age of 32.  The soundclip with her bio is "Buttered Popcorn" which featured her "churchy alto."

Friday, November 12, 2010

They can have their cake and play it too

Today's Birthday Band is an impressive group. Two of their songs listed below are included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Can you guess them?

We'll help by eliminating songs by the Cowsills. OK, that really wasn't much help.  We loved the Flower Girl in "The Rain the Park and Other Things" but it's definitely not Hall of Fame material. How about we also toss out anything by Black Oak Arkansas, which may have been a cut above Molly Hatchet but still ranks near the bottom of the Southern Rock scale.

We see a half-dozen songs below that could make such a highly subjective list, but there are just two. Go ahead and hit us with your best shot.

LaVern Baker (1929-1997): Singer
Tweedle-Dee, I Cried a Tear, Jim Dandy

Roger Lavern (1938): Keyboards, the Tornados
Telstar, Globetrotter

Jesse Colin Young (1944): Singer, Youngbloods
Get Together, Songbird

Vince Martell (1945): Singer, Vanilla Fudge
You Keep Me Hanging On, Take Me for a Little While

Chris Dreja (1946): Guitar, Yardbirds
For Your Love, I’m a Man, Shapes of Things

Pat Daugherty (1947): Bass, Black Oak Arkansas
Jim Dandy to the Rescue, Memories at the Window

Jim Peterik (1950): keyboards, Survivor
Eye of the Tiger, Burning Heart

Paul Cowsill (1951): Singer, Cowsills
Hair, Indian Lake, The Rain the Park and Other Things

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Today's cover story

Rolling Stone, wanna see my picture on the cover
Rolling Stone, wanna buy five copies for my mother
Rolling Stone, wanna see my smilin' face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone

On this day in 1967 John Lennon was on the cover of the first issue of Rolling Stone, which promised to cover "things and attitudes that music embraces."  You know, things. Like music, politics, culture (and counter culture) and, well, music.

The Beatles or their individual members would grace dozens of these covers. Here were the first 10:
1. John Lennon
2. Tina Turner
3. The Beatles
4. Jimi Hendrix, Donovan and Otis Redding
5. Jim Morrison
6. Janis Joplin
7. Jimi Hendrix
8. Monterey Pop Festival
9. John Lennon and Paul McCartney
10. Eric Clapton

Five years after the magazine launch Dr. John and the Medicine Show hit the charts with the Shel Silverstein penned "On the Cover of Rolling Stone," and three months later they made it to the Promised Land.  Check out the link below, showing some very burned out hombres singing their hit song:


Monday, November 8, 2010

A Page in history

We don't get the nickname "The Singin' Rage," but we're glad she changed her given name from Clara Ann Fowler. Otherwise, who knows?  Patti Page might never have knocked us silly with "The Tennessee Waltz," which spent 30 weeks on the Billboard pop charts beginning about this time in 1950. 

Many artists have covered the song first recorded by Pee Wee King, but nobody topped Patti's version -- even if it was the B side to "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus."  We dedicate our next waltz to her.

Patti Page (1927): Singer
Tennessee Waltz, Doggie in the Window, Allegheny Moon

Bonnie Bramlett (1944): Singer, Delany and Bonnie and Friends
Never Ending Song of Love

Roy Wood (1946): Electric Light Orchestra
10538 Overture

Minnie Riperton (1947-1979)
Lovin’ You

Alan Berger (1949): Bass, Southside Johnny
I Don’t Wanna Go Home, The Fever, This Time It’s for Real

Bonnie Raitt (1949): Guitar, singer
Runaway, The Boy Can’t Help It, Something to Talk About

Ricki Lee Jones (1954): Singer
Chuck E.’s in Love

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beau Brummels got the last laugh

By Wayne Shelor

Open in a new window: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA7x_MCZplQ

The Beau Brummelstones were a big hit in Bedrock.
If you wanted to make a record, say, in late 1964, that was an absolute sonic knockoff of the Beatles -- a song compleat with the British Merseybeat Sound -- what might be the ingredients? How about this:

Take a black California radio disc jockey who had tried in vain to work with Grace Slick and the Great Society ... mix in a former Philadelphia DJ who is part-owner of a little-bitty record label in San Francisco ... get a young band whose lead singer, two years earlier, recorded a song called "I Wanna Twist" ... and mix them all up in a recording studio.

Don’t laugh - that's the way it happened. And it worked.

Sylvester Stewart, later known as Sly Stone -- a Bay area radio personality who had given up trying to work with the loopy Grace Slick (you'll remember her from Jefferson Airplane) - hooked up with Tom Donahue of tiny Autumn Records to produce the record "Laugh, Laugh" for an American group with an intentionally deceptive British-sounding name: The Beau Brummels.

Sly - yes, he of the Family Stone - took the boys into the studio and, working with a song the band had written, crafted a jangling guitars-and-three-part harmony pop piece that shot right to the Top 20 in 1964.

"Laugh Laugh" sounds as if John Lennon himself is playing the harmonica, and the lyrics are pure Paul.

I discovered “Laugh, Laugh,” curiously enough, on the CD version of 1972's Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968, a now-historic compilation of garage band classics that is credited by some with inspiring punk.

"Laugh Laugh" provided the Beau Brummels their day in the California sun. Most of the band's members went on to smaller and lesser things ... except that the Beau Brummels were featured -- as themselves -- in an episode of the popular Sunday night cartoon series of the early 1960s, The Flintstones.

And that was years before the Beatles appeared in Yellow Submarine.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Everything you wanted to know about sax

Maybe they would have mastered the clarinet, trombone or flugelhorn, but we can't imagine anything in their hands other than the instrument for which they became famous.  We're talking about the saxophone and the splendid artists who have played them, and we tip our hats today to birthday boy Adolphe Sax, the inventor who made it all possible.

Here are 10 of our favorite sax players (recognizing there are dozens and dozens of other fabulous players who might make this list on any other day):

1. Ben Webster
2. Paul Desmond
3. Charlie Parker
4. Sonny Rollins
5. John Coltrane
6. Coleman Hawkins
7. King Curtis
8. Big Al Groth
9. Billy Novick
10. Clarence Clemons

Adolphe Sax (1814-1894): Inventor
Saxophone, saxotromba
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)): Composer, bandleader
Stars and Stripes Forever, Semper Fidelis, El Capitan, King Cotton
Ray Conniff (1916-2002): Orchestra director
Theme From Dr. Zhivago; LP: S’wonderful, Somewhere My Love
Stonewall Jackson (1932): Singer
Waterloo, Me and You and a Dog Named Boo, Help Stamp Out Loneliness, B.J. the D.J.

Doug Sahm (1941-1999): Singer, Sir Douglas Quintet
She’s about a Mover

George Young (1947): Guitar, Easybeats, AC/DC
She’s So Fine, Wedding Ring, Sad and Lonely and Blue
Glenn Frey (1948): Musician/singer, The Eagles
Take It Easy, Lyin’ Eyes, Hotel California, Smuggler’s Blues

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dish up some Raven Under Glass

Get on your boogie shoes: Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys are back home to kick off the seasonal Mitchell Park Domes concert series.  Click on the link below to hear a sampling of Chicago-style blues (and order their smoking hot new album):


The last time we saw the boys they were tearing up the Concertina Hall on the south side of town.  Since then they've been all over the country and back, and recently the good Reverend released Shake Your Boogie, a blistering 13-song free-for-all that captures the energy of the band's full-tilt live performances.

It's the best damn blues around, and it's Under the Glass tonight.  Be sure to check out the boys if you're in the area. Here's the concert schedule through December:

Thursdays 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Nov. 4, Rev. Raven, Blues
Nov. 11, Ed Franks, Lounge
Nov. 18, King Comets, Swing
Nov. 25, Johnny Rawls, Blues
Dec. 2, Streetlife, R&B
Dec. 9, Doo-Wop Daddies, Doo-Wop
Dec. 16, Card Studs, Lounge
Dec. 23, King Solomon, Reggae
Dec. 30, Mt. Olive, Country Rock