Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy birthday, Joe South

We can't let the day get away without wishing happy birthday to one of our favorite tunesmiths.  Happy 71st, Joe South, and many more...

Billy Joe Royal took your song "Down in the Boondocks" for a big ride back in 1965, which really put you on the map.  But you proved you could handle a tune yourself in 1969 with "Games People Play," which featured that ultracool Danelectro sitar riff.  "Games" probably surprised a few folks when it stole Grammy song of the year from Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" (although Harry did win for best contemporary male vocal).  And can there possibly be another website that was launched with those memorable lyrics?

You followed up "Games People Play" with "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," another gem that proved once and for all you would not be best remembered for your great session work, which included contributions to Bob Dylan's Blonde and Blonde and Aretha Franklin's sizzling "Chain of Fools."

Then to top things off Lynn Anderson made "Rose Garden" one of the most successful crossover songs of the day, topping the Billboard country chart in 1971 and making it all the way to No. 3 on the Hot 100.  Not to mention becoming a monster hit in places like Norway, Australia and New Zealand. 

We weren't sure what you'd been up to in recent years (other than cashing those royalty checks), so we decided to check out your website at And danged if we didn't get that annoying "webpage cannot be found" message.  So all we can do is raise a glass in your honor tonight, wish you the best and hope that site is back up soon.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reconsidering the Troggs

Imagine being in a band trying to bust loose in England following the British Invasion and having these lyrics presented to you for consideration:

Wild thing you make my heart sing
You make everything groovy

Especially if your band's original name happened to be The Troglodytes.  At the time the Troggs were given a choice of recording either "Wild Thing," written by Chip Taylor, or John Sebastian's "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" which Sebastian had written after meeting two sisters at a summer camp. 

As we all know the Troggs made a good choice, taking the unlikely "Wild Thing" to No. 1 in the summer of 1966 (coincidentally it was replaced on the Billboard chart by the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City." Taylor is still cashing royalty checks and "Wild Thing" still astounds us every time we hear it.

They were not a bad band at all, the Troggs, scoring two other hits with "Love Is All Around" and "With a Girl Like You."  And with frontman Reg Presley they were the perfect protagonists to pull off "Wild Thing." The video above of "Wild Thing" cracks us up, but it's also worth watching a clip of "With a Girl Like You."

The lads gave garage rock a GOOD name.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A killer song, to coin a phrase

If Bob Dylan's "You're a Big Girl Now" isn't one of the most incredible songs ever written you can stick a corkscrew in our heart.

We just went back to see what we wrote while putting Blood on the Tracks -- on which "You're a Big Girl" appears -- on the SSS big board. The song wasn't even mentioned. One of five cuts from the album that Dylan re-recorded at Sound Studio 80 in Minneapolis (the originals came out of A&R in New York), "Big Girl" does tend to get lost in the Blood on the Tracks conversation because of heavyweights like "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate."  Even "If You See Her Say Hello" -- another brilliant song from this incomparable 1975 release -- often takes a backseat.  But when you're riding in a Caddy what's so wrong about that? 

We take up "You're a Big Girl Now" after watching, of all things, a video of Jimmy LaFave. Now before you scream blasphemy give this cover a listen. No one can top Dylan's original recordings -- including the New York version that finally appeared on 1986's Biograph. But we kinda like LaFave's loose interpretation because of the way the lyrics, while still painfully inflected,  dance along more quietly with LaFave's jangly acoustic picking. And it is the lyrics to this song -- and the entire album -- that make it one of the favorites in our collection.

Our conversation was short and sweet
It nearly swept me off my feet
And I'm back in the rain, oh
And you are on dry land
You made it there somehow
You're a big girl now

Bird on the horizon, sittin' on a fence
He's singin' his song for me at his own expense
And I'm just like that bird, oh
Singin' just for you
I hope that you can hear
Hear me singin' through these tears

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we've shared can't last
I can change, I swear, oh
See what you can do
I can make it through
You can make it too

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase
You've known it all the time, I'm learnin' it these days
Oh, I know where I can find you, oh
In somebody's room
It's a price I have to pay
You're a big girl all the way

A change in the weather is known to be extreme
But what's the sense of changing horses in midstream?
I'm going out of my mind, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we've been apart

Friday, February 25, 2011

A ballroom blitz

This Lucinda Williams tour is something to behold.

We caught her on the fourth stop Wednesday night at Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee and we're still reverberating.  How can an acoustic show be this electrifying?

It can be if you have the ammo Williams used to fire a spirited 23-song salute at the sellout crowd, thumping the bass lines on her trusty Gibson J-45 throughout as she covered favorite after favorite from her impressive catalog while splicing in six new songs from Blessed (due out March 1 on Lost Highway).

Click on the following link to read the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online review:

We've never seen her in better spirits, and her big brassy voice has never sounded better. She actually sang the first verse of "Ugly Truth" from Blessed before stopping to acknowledge she was playing in the wrong key.  "I just got transported," she laughed as she capoed up one fret and started the song over.  She played just one cover and knocked it out of the crowded ballroom: Skip James' "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues."

One online commenter called it a night of "mutual love, respect and unadulterated joy" and we admit we were right in the middle of the love fest. We wish we had a video clip to share, but maybe something will get posted on YouTube.  Meanwhile, here's the set list (new songs from Blessed are in italics):

Opening Set:
Side of the Road
Lake Charles
Crescent City
Bus to Baton Rouge
Everthing Has Changed
Born to Be Loved
Ugly Truth
Well Well Well
Concrete and Barbed Wire
I Lost It
I Don't Know How You're Livin'
World Without Tears
Fruits of My Labor
Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings
Honey Bee

Hard Times
I Changed the Locks
Kiss Like You Kiss

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our piggy bank was a Wurlitzer

The Johnny Cash ballad "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" reached No. 1 on the Billboard country charts at this time in 1959 and spent six weeks there, holding court until Johnny Horton assumed the top spot with "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)."

There was great excitement waiting for the next Johnny Cash single to be released, knowing that the flip side would get nearly as much play as the A side. ("I Still Miss Someone" was the flip to "Guns" and might have become the more popular song over the years.)

A little pipsqueak growing up in Wisconsin could legally hang out in a tavern if a parent was within earshot. He could even sip a "shorty" beer. So if you were tall enough to reach the coin slot on the juke box you were in tall cotton.  Imagine the trust your daddy placed in you when he gave you change from his euchre earnings to "Play the box, son."

The nickels and dimes that went into that Wurlitzer, and the music it spit out. "Guns" was Johnny's fifth No. 1 hit, and it was surrounded by memorable country tunes: Ray Price's "Heartaches by the Number," Eddy Arnold's "Tennessee Stud" and by the end of 1959 Marty Robbins hit paydirt with "El Paso." Somewhere in there Johnny slipped in "I Got Stripes" and "Luther Played the Boogie."

Those were the days, buddy, and we don't mean maybe.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toto recall

Interesting that when we googled "Toto" we got Toto Toilets, which offer free same day shipping and clearance prices up to 50 percent off! (Toto, the band, we disovered a few links lower.)

We take up this topic today on the anniversary of Toto's biggest night: the 25th Grammy Awards at Shrine Auditorium in L.A.  On this day in 1983 the band won six Grammys, including album of the year for Toto IV and record of the year for "Rosanna."

Three singles from Toto IV cracked the Billboard top 10, including "I Won't Hold You Back," and "Africa," neither of which we seem to recall at the moment.  And we sure hope Toto guitarist Steve Lukather doesn't read this because he seems to have little patience for slights.  Rolling Stone magazine apparently wasn't a big fan of Toto, even though it was planning to put the band on its cover.  It didn't happen.

"We were the only band in history to turn down being on the cover of Rolling Stone," Lukather told Nightwatcher's House of Rock in 2009. "We told Jann Wenner to stick it up his ass."

Lukather sounded very bitter in the interview, during which he also went after MTV and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (We're not taking sides here; for all we know they had it coming.)  It's water over the dam at this point. We're just curious what the rest of the world thinks of the band's legacy. We don't think they'll be HOF inductees any time soon, but there must be bigger slights.

Anybody for Rush?  How about Stevie Ray Vaughan?  Moody Blues? Cindy, a bar maiden at our favorite watering hole, has three words for you: "Bon Jovi, baby!" she said yesterday while refilling a pint.  "I've seen every one of their tours since I was 14."  Damn, girl, aren't you in your 40s? Have they really been around that long?  Cindy plans to keep the string intact in May when the band plays Bradley Center.

Toto doesn't even seem to enter most conversations.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pssst: Blessed is Lucinda Williams

Thanks to NPR, Lucinda Williams' new album Blessed is available for a free listen until its release date March 1.  All you have to do is click here:

We had pre-ordered the disc on, but why wait?  We didn't, and now we can't stop playing it.  And what timing: Williams will be in town tomorrow night at Turner Hall and we have tickets.

We are glowing, unabashed fans of Ms. Williams, and have been since 1988 when we first saw her perform at the Seventh Street Entry in Minneapolis. We didn't even mind a few years later when she walked out during her opening song in the adjacent First Avenue. (She did come back after a few minutes. And this seems to happen with her, although we're hopeful it'll be a safe night Wednesday for her rare solo acoustic show. You can't walk out on yourself, can you?)

With each album Williams just keeps upping the ante: Sweet Old World, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, West, Little Honey ... every one of them a gem that kept you waiting for the next album. And now we finally have it. Download the album or order it for yourself  by clicking here.

And if you're within driving distance of a tour stop at these intimate venues you might want to score tickets now:

Feb. 23 Milwaukee, Turner Hall Ballroom
Feb. 25 Bloomington IN, Buskirk-Chumley Theatre
Feb. 26 Nelsonville OH, Stuart's Opera House
Feb. 27 Tucson AZ, Boondocks Lounge
Feb. 27 Charleston, WV Mountain Stage
Mar 1 Erie PA, Mercyhurst College
Mar 2 Ann Arbor MI, The Ark
Mar 4 Toronto, Massey Hall
Mar 5 Toronto, Massey Hall
Mar 8 Portsmouth NH, Portsmouth Music Hall
Mar 9 Boston, House of Blues
Mar 11 New York City, Webster Hall
Mar 12 New York City, Webster Hall
Mar 14 New York City, Count Basie Theatre

Blessed is the first PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) for an album that has yet to be released. It's that good, but don't take our word for it.  Listen for free.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Let there be (female) drums

Why are there not more female drummers?  We've seen a few good ones attack the kits, most notably Janet Weiss of the late Sleater-Kinney, who's at work in the video above.  But chick drummers are few and far between. And it doesn't make sense.

What brings this question to light is the latest list from Rolling Stone, which offered readers a chance to pick the best drummers of all time.  Now we didn't expect to see a woman among the Top 10 any more than we thought we'd find Ringo Starr at No. 5.  But there he is, just above Buddy Rich, who is arguably the best jazz drummer who ever picked up a set of sticks.
And that's a whole different beef. Why in the world would they include jazz drummers on this list of rockers?  It's apples and oranges.  Have the readers who voted even heard of Max Roach or Art Blakey?  We doubt it.  But once you open it up to jazzmen you better put those cats on the ballot.  We'd take Al Foster any day over Dave Grohl or Ringo.  Here's the RS list:

1. John Bonham, Led Zeppelin
2. Keith Moon, The Who
3. Neil Peart, Rush
4. Dave Grohl, Nirvana
5. Ringo Starr, Beatles
6. Buddy Rich
7. Stewart Copeland, Police
8. ?uestlove
9. Ginger Baker, Cream
10. Michael Shrieve, Santana

Now back to the the women.  If you enjoy Janet Weiss, then check out this video of Weiss and Sara Lund of Unwound going after it:

Why did Ginger Baker have to be a guy...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

There's no port like home port

Wish we could find Bob Dylan's original of "When the Ship Comes In" on YouTube.  There are dozens of cover versions, none better than the Arlo Guthrie performance we're sharing now. Just click here.

About the time the Packers celebration commences in Green Bay this afternoon the destroyer USS O'Kane will be dropping anchor in Pearl Harbor, completing a deployment that must have seemed like years. 

There will be joyous and tearful reunions for the crew of the O'Kane -- including IT3 Zachary J. Smith.  Wish we could be there to join the celebration, son, but there will be a time soon to catch up. Meanwhile there's something green and gold coming in the mail.

Now keep that special bar chip in your wallet...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The table is set

This is all we have to offer today.  Well, there is a pot of jalapeno bratwurst stewing in onions and green and yellow bell peppers on the stove, and a case of Miller Lite chillin' in the frig. That's the way we play it most weekends during the football season.  The only real change today is we brought out the old Bart Starr childhood football, hoping to add a bit of extra mojo. You always want the game to be as good as billed, and it rarely is.  But this one, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, it just seems like the perfect deal. It goes without saying we want our team to win. But who knows? Just kick the ball and let's find out...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy birthday, Hammerin' Hank

We were watching a Green Bay Packers game a few years ago at Peter Cooper's house in East Nashville.  Peter is a South Carolina native but somewhere along the way he got a taste of Wisconsin sports -- most likely it was the Sheboygan bratwurst -- and he is hooked for life.

On Saturday we had gone downtown to a sports bar on Lower Broadway and watched Wisconsin beat Purdue in a thriller at West Lafayette. Afterward everybody in our group chugged Boilermakers to celebrate, and the next day we reconvened at the journalist/songwriter's home to wolf down Peter's special recipe brats and watch the Packers dispatch the Lions. This is what we do.

After the Packers game, as we were polishing off the rest of the beer and brats, our host picked up his Martin D-28 and began playing a song. Until then I had never heard Peter play, and I was impressed. The song that drifted out would eventually appear on his 2008 Red Beet Records release Mission Door as "715 (For Hank Aaron)."  Anybody with a deep appreciation of sports will love the story telling in this wonderful song.

We can't think of a better day to share the story with you than on Hammerin' Hank's 77th birthday. We couldn't find a clip of the entire song, but you can click on the link below and at least hear a sampling. You can also order the CD, which we heartily recommend. The lyrics follow:

Dice games ending with the flash of a blade
All in the wrists if you want to get paid
Daddy sold beer at the Black Cat lounge
Sold a little shine until the man came around

Little boy walkin’ through a place like that
Hitting bottle caps with a broomstick bat
Skinny ‘cause there wasn’t much of nothing to eat
Walkin’ through the mud ‘cause there wasn’t any street

This was Alabama, down the bay
Whole world looking off the other way
Henry Aaron was looking for a reason to dream
In ’47 when a black man signed with a big league team

Jim Crow smilin’ while the sun beat down
On a sandlot field on the wrong side of town
He took it all in stride
Striding to the ball
Turn of the wrists
Crack, jog and touch ‘em all

Ten years later, still playing the game
Stands full of people screaming his name
Won the pennant for the Braves with a four base knock
Same day they were rioting in Little Rock

Up in old Milwaukee he was MVP
Back in Alabama he was still not free
Not free to drink a beer in the white folk’s lounge
Not free to have a meal in Mobile, downtown

Young man rising from the hard hot south
Speaking his mind with a bat and not his mouth
Holdin’ it inside
Striding to the ball
Turn of the wrists
Crack, jog and touch ‘em all
(interlude, where I tell you why I care so much about sports)

Dice games ending with the flash of a blade
All in the wrists if you want to get paid
Daddy sold beer at the Black Cat lounge
Sold a little shine until the man came around

Little boy walkin’ through a place like that
Hitting bottlecaps with a broomstick bat
Skinny ‘cause there wasn’t much of nothing to eat
Walkin’ through the mud ‘cause there wasn’t any street

That was Alabama, down the bay
Whole world looking off the other way
Henry Aaron was looking for a reason to dream
When the dream came true, that’s when the world got really mean

He opened up death threats in the mail
‘Cause he was taking a hammer to a great white whale
Had no place to hide
Striding to the ball
Turn of the wrists
Crack, jog and touch ‘em all

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nice pair of banjos

"If brains was lard," Jed Clampett once uttered about slow-minded nephew Jethro, "that boy wouldn't have enough to grease a skillet."

To admit we miss the Beverly Hillbillies might suggest a serious character flaw.  So let's just say we miss Elly Mae, who had her own challenges but was blessed with some redeeming qualities.  Here's a memorable exchange from an episode of the hit TV series:

Granny: Elly May done popped the buttons off her shirt again.
Jed: Elly May carries herself proud with her shoulders throwed back.
Granny: It ain't her shoulders that have been poppin' these buttons.

The show's theme song was no slouch, either.

"The Ballad of Jed Clampett" spent 20 weeks on the Billboard country chart and was top possum on this date in 1963. Written and composed by Paul Henning, producers had the good sense to find the best pickers in the land to pull off the song.  That would be Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, who helped bring bluegrass music to mainstream America.  If we ever get around to playing a banjo you can bet this will be the first song we learn.

As Jeb used to say: Well doggies!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

If we could Samba right now, we would

Snow day!

After a brutal morning of shoveling we decided to put some Stan Getz in the player.  It is, after all, the birthday of "the Sound."  And if our muscles weren't so tired and our bones so creaky we'd be dancing across the carpet to Jazz Samba, one of our favorite jazz recordings.

For a taste click on the link below and listen to "Desafinado," a rhythmic gem  that somehow only reached No. 4 on Billboard's easy listening chart in 1962:

This is the album that brought bossa nova music to America, thanks to Charlie Byrd's imaginative guitar pacings and Getz's incomparable work on the tenor sax.  A great album to have in your collection. Once we recover from the shoveling we're going to consider a remedial class at the Arthur Murray dance school.

The members of today's Birthday Band:

Stan Getz (1927-1991), Saxophone
Desafinado, Girl from Ipanema (with Astrud Gilberto)

Alan Caddy (1940-2000): Guitar, the Tornados
First British group to top U.S. chart with Telstar (1962)

Graham Nash (1942): Hollies; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Military Madness, Immigration Man

Peter Lucia (1947): Drums, Tommy James and the Shondells
Mony Mony, Crimson and Clover, Crystal Blue Persuasion

Ross Valory (1949): Bass, Journey
Any Way You Want It, Who’s Crying Now, Don't Stop Believing