Saturday, April 30, 2011

If you could play like Chet ...

When we heard Steve Wariner has a new instrumental album out (Guitar Laboratory, buy it now!) we got to wondering: Does the cat sing any more, because he certainly had a voice years ago when he was generating a batch of mainstream country hits.

We understand how someone who appears to be the reincarnation of Chet Atkins might gravitate to instrumental work, but that's not how we remember discovering Wariner. No, it happened like this ...

Years ago we were sitting in a bar in Centerville, Wis., which is just this side of nowhere, and a song came on the jukebox that got us jumping. It was a Pat McLaughlin tune we had been playing that whole summer, only the voice coming out of the speakers wasn't Pat's. It was Wariner singing "Lynda," one of three No. 1 singles off his 1987 album It's a Crazy World.

What the ...

Now many of you still haven't heard of Pat McLaughlin despite our continuing efforts to usher him into your musical lives. All the more reason to be amazed then, as we were at the time, that one of our favorite artists -- a virtual unknown outside of Nashville -- had cracked the jukebox circuit. Or so we thought. We listened to Wariner's cover, at the same time amazed and disappointed, then put our money in the box and played it again, and again.

We didn't know Wariner from a morel mushroom, but learned right then and there that the man could play a guitar. And even though he had "stolen" a song we knew as Pat's, he was doing it justice. Click above and hear for yourself.

Now, almost 25 years later, we're listening to Guitar Laboratory and thinking it might deserve to be in the pickin' parlor company with Bill Frisell's Nashville. But we gotta say: We still like our guitar music sprinkled with an occasional vocal, especially if it's coming from the soulful pipes of Pat McLaughlin.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A wah-wah wonder

We read somewhere that Status Quo, which qualify in our book as one-hit wonders for 1968's "Pictures of Matchstick Men," changed direction after realizing bubble gum psychodelia wasn't going to stand the test of time.  The British band soon after moved into the realm of boogie rock featuring a twin Telecaster attack. 

And was never heard from again. Well, they've been around but we never heard from them again.

But, hey, we were more than psyched after first hearing the cool wah-wah sound of "Matchstick Men," which was released in January 1968 on Pye Records and topped out at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It still gets steady play on classic rock stations.  We didn't know at the time that Francis Rossi had written it on the crapper while waiting for his wife and mother-in-law to leave the house. (With all the chatter this week about the British throne we thought it was worth bringing this to your attention.)

It also happens that Rossi turns 62 today, and what a Birthday Band we have for you:

Duke Ellington (1899-1974): Bandleader
It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

Carl Gardner (1928): Singer, Coasters
Charlie Brown

Lonnie Donegan (1931-2002): Singer
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour

April Stevens (1936) Singer w/Nino Tempo
Deep Purple

Duane Allen (1943): Singer,  Oak Ridge Boys

Tammi Terrell (1945-1970): Singer w/Marvin Gaye
Ain't Nothin' Like The Real Thing

Tommy James (1947): Guitar/singer, Tommy James & the Shondells
I Think We're Alone Now, Hanky Panky, Crimson and Clover

 Francis Rossi (1949): Guitar/vocals, Status Quo
Pictures of Matchstick Men

 Carnie Wilson (1968): Singer, Wilson-Phillips
Hold On

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Idol gets to the nitty gritty

From left: Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin,
Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk.
Now that the American Idol field has been whittled from 125,000 to 6 we feel a social responsibility to finally weigh in, so let's begin by saying  ... Goodbye, Jacob.

We're not sure how Jacob Lusk lasted this long, but after watching the Final 6 charm us with Carole King songs last night there was just one performer who clearly separated himself from the pack, in a negative way. Of Lusk's performance singing "Oh No Not My Baby" judge Steven Tyler said: "It's about time you shook your tail feathers." But this isn't an avian competition. Is it?

Speaking of birds, we know it'll be a tough road for the the two remaining females.  One could fall by the wayside tonight. But at least Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina are going down swinging.  And they are cute. Of Reinhart's performance Tyler said "I just saw God."  Um, we think we know what he was talking about.

Here's the Sanctuary's Rapid Fire Rankings based on just one show. We predict it'll be a fight to the finish between rocker James Durbin and carrot top Casey Abrams, with Scotty McCreery (our favorite) possibly sneaking in there to win it all.

6. Jacob Lusk: He's goin' home, if not tonight then surely the following week.
5. Casey Abrams: Made Tyler's scalp itch, which may not be a good thing.
4. Lauren Alaina: We'd love to see the Georgia peach hang around longer.
3. Haley Reinhart: Just too cute to win over the critical girl voting bloc.
2. James Durbin: All that crowd squealing suggests he's the one to beat.
1. Scotty McCreery: Would make George Jones proud. Or would he?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eight is more than enough

We remain devout supporters of the record shop, but in the case of Lucinda Williams' new album Blessed we recommend buying online where you don't have to be confronted by the choice of eight covers. 

By Mike Tierney

So I swing by my record store, which has a listening post for new releases, and punch up Lucinda Williams' latest effort, Blessed. The first few cuts are decent but, in typical Williams-ese, as sleepy as the small southern towns she evokes in her music.

Then comes "Seeing Black," a sloppy, brilliant balls-to-the-wall number on which Lucinda rocks like she never has before. (With help, I later discover, from Elvis Costello on guitar.) Too many artists ease off the accelerator as they age. Here, Williams, 58, lets her drummer cut loose and aims grinding guitars at us from all directions.

You go, girl.

I proceed to the CD bin, only to meet with confusion. A deluxe CD set of Blessed offers a second disc that is a replica of the first, except that the songs are demos record "at the kitchen table."

Then I notice Blessed comes in eight different covers, each depicting a different character.

Which do I buy? Will the demo disappoint, or will it illuminate? Which cover best fits the musical mood?

So I leave, overwhelmed by the choices. In this era of recorded music, it is good, I suppose, that artists can provide multiple choices, but there is a downside.

It is also good that I can Google the song and listen to it on my laptop. For Lucinda's sake, I hope I don't burn out on "Seeing Black" before I contribute $14, the price of the CD, to the cause.

Mike Tierney knows a winner when he hears one, so we're confident our Atlanta contributor will fall headphones-over-heels for Blessed's "Buttercup" after a few listens.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Georgia on our minds

By Al Tays

You've got to be in the right mood to listen to a slow song. If you're all jazzed up and jonesing for a little "Johnny B. Goode," well, "Stormy Monday" just ain't gonna do it for you.

But when you are relaxed enough to enjoy a slow song, there are few better than "Georgia on my Mind."

"Georgia on my Mind" was proclaimed the state song of Georgia on this day in 1979. The song had been a No. 1 hit for Ray Charles in 1960, so why the delay? Well, it seems Charles, who was born in Albany, Ga. (but grew up in Florida), performed the song for the Georgia state legislature on March 7, 1979, and a little more than a month later the legislature adopted it as the official state song, replacing an earlier one called "Georgia."

Funny thing about "Georgia on my Mind." It's not definitively about the state of Georgia. It was written in 1930 by two Indiana University students, Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell. Gorrell's lyrics can be interpreted as referring to a person or a place, and Carmichael had a sister named Georgia.

"Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind."

"Georgia, Georgia, a song of you / Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines."

"The road leads back to you."

"Georgia on my Mind" is the only song for which Gorrell ever wrote lyrics. After college, he became a banker.

Another oddity about the lyrics: Charles picked the song up at the second verse. In the first verse, the singer sings "I'll go back to Georgia / 'Cause that's where I belong." (Now this sounds more like a reference to a place, but again, it could be a person.)

After living in Georgia for five years, this displaced Yankee developed a fondness for this "old sweet song." So let's hear it one more time. "Johnny B. Goode" will just have to wait.

Contributor Al Tays might be a Left Coaster from Boston, but he has a proud history in Georgia that includes playing a round of golf at Augusta National and sharing a zip code with Travis Tritt.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hopping good

We don't know this cat, but when we went searching on YouTube for the guitar chords to "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" -- there's still one day to learn the song and impress your nieces and nephews! -- he just showed up.

We believe the gentle looking soul to be Tom Wishing, who appears to be playing a Martin D-28 and may or may not host the site That's all we know, other than we enjoy his picking. If you know more than us, please share.

And get hopping on this song.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Songs of reckoning, despair and hope

You may have gotten the impression this spring that there are a bunch of political kooks running the great state of Wisconsin. We aren't even sure yet what's shaking out in Madison, but we do have a proud history when it comes to progressive, visionary leadership, and today we salute one of our favorites: the late, great U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson.

Nelson believed the environment was worth fighting for years before it became fashionable to do so -- decades before Al Gore was conveniently winning the Nobel Peace Prize for The Inconvenient Truth. Nelson founded Earth Day on this day in 1970 and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A year after Nelson got Earth Day rolling, Marvin Gaye took up the cause with "Mercy Mercy Me," a stirring anthem about the environment that stands as one of his most poignant songs. Here are 10 songs worthy of consideration on Earth Day 2011. Click on the lyrics to hear the songs.

1. Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye
Things ain't what they used to be, no, no

2. Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

3. Where Do the Children Play, Cat Stevens
Well you've cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air

4. Saltwater, Julian Lennon
Time is not a friend, 'cause friends we're out of time

5. I'd Love to Change the World, Ten Years After
World pollution there's no solution

6. What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong
I see trees of green, red roses too

7. Save Our Planet Earth, Jimmy Cliff
The children wanna love, they wanna live

8. Shapes of Things, Yardbirds
Please don't destroy these lands, don't make them desert sands

9. Sweet Old World, Lucinda Williams
Look what you lost when you left this world

10. The Road to Hell Pt. 2, Chris Rea
You must learn this lesson fast and learn it well

UPDATE: Oops, how could we forget "Burn On" by Randy Newman. Here's a live performance from Berlin in 1994 -- 25 years after the Cuyahoga River started on fire. Maybe we are making some progress...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Everything's coming up roses for Eliza

Eliza Gilkyson's new album Roses at the End of Time is streaming through our earbuds right now, and it's terrific.

One of our favorite female artists since we stumbled upon her 2000 release Hard Times in Babylon, Gilkyson has always brought rich vocals, evocative lyrics and sterling musicianship to every project.  It's saying something, then, to suggest the Grammy nominee's latest Red House Records album might be her best to date.

The seductive ballad "Blue Moon Night" sets the pace, reminding us once again of Gilkyson's vivid story telling powers. The songs of emotional struggles, conflict and occasional triumph that follow take us up hills and through lush valleys without a single letdown. We also discover immediately that producer/engineer Cisco Ryder (who also provides percussion and backing vocals) has worked all the right dials. After all, it's his mom's music -- who could better channel the familial vibe?

Mike Hardwick's exceptional electric guitar, and guest appearances by John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky are among the perks that help push Gilkyson's latest effort to a fine new plateau where rootsy folk, pop and Americana blend seamlessly.

We've often wondered why the Austin-based Gilkyson, daughter of acclaimed songwriter Terry Gilkyson ( "Memories Are Made of This," "Marianne" and the Oscar nominated "The Bare Necessities") doesn't receive more radio play.  Maybe she does and we aren't tuning in to the right stations. Secure this album and you won't have to go looking for her music. The release date is May 3 but you can download "Looking for a Place" now for free by going to

Roses at the End of Time is Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout (PSSST!) No. 23, the first pre-release to make the big board. It leaves that kind of lasting impression.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whatever gets you through the week

Jim Croce's "Thursday" was a
flip side to "Workin' at the
Car Wash Blues."
How weird was it yesterday to find ourselves singing "Tuesday's Gone" on the drive to work, oblivous to the fact that it actually WAS Tuesday?  Not too weird -- until later in the morning when we heard the Lynynrd Skynyrd staple piping through the speakers at work.

Now that's weird. Or cosmic. Or perhaps just coincidence. But it got us thinking, and here's what we came up with:

Stormy Monday, Allman Brothers
Ruby Tuesday, Rolling Stones
Wednesday Morning 3 AM, Simon & Garfunkel
Thursday, Jim Croce
Friday on My Mind, Easybeats
Saturday Night Special, Lynyrd Skynyrd
Sunday Morning Coming Down, Kris Kristofferson

Those will get you through any week. Which days would you upgrade?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Download this

A product of the dinasour known as newspapers, Mike Tierney stubbornly clings to some old habits -- like buying his music at a record store. Tune in on this day to discover some of our Atlanta contributor's more virtuous quirks. It's Tuesdays with Tierney, only at the Sanctuary.

By Mike Tierney

Motivated by a sense of obligation -- and, okay, by the offer of free beer and barbecue -- I swung by my neighborhood music emporium Saturday on National Record Store Day.

The owner, Warren, was too busy to spout his frequent rant about how the recording industry is strangling shops such as his. The line at the cash register was a half-dozen deep. Good for him. He needs the business, especially with artists increasingly bypassing the middleman and delivering their work directly to consumers.

My store is a customer-friendly place. I can pop on headphones and listen to cuts of fresh releases. (Lucinda Williams and Jason Isbell each has a serious kick-ass new song.) I can leaf through stacks of recordings without the skeleton sales staff asking every few minutes, "Can I help you find something?"

And I can hear Warren's screw-you vents at an industry that once employed him. You know how CDs are marketed with designated "release dates," usually on Tuesdays? Warren puts them in the bins as soon as they arrive at the store.

I suppose I should join the masses and start downloading my music. It is more convenient , efficient and economical. But there is something undefinably comforting about thumbing through a drawer of records. Grabbing one that you have anticipated for weeks. Or stumbling across an unexpected gem.

I do not spend as much as I should at the store, though being charged up to $16 for a CD seems a valid excuse. I just hope the occasional dents in my credit card help, in a small way, to keep this fine example of an American institution in business for a while longer.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A killer day for music makers

Happy April 17, a day that, if you’re a musician, it might be better to stay in bed. Why, you ask?

1960: Eddie Cochran “Summertime Blues” is killed when the taxi he is riding in crashes into a lamppost in England. He is 21.

1974: Sha Na Na guitarist Vinnie Taylor is found dead of a drug overdose in a Holiday Inn in Charlottesville, Va.

1983: Felix Pappalardi, producer and bass player for Mountain, is shot dead by his wife, Gail Collins, allegedly during a jealous rage. Collins, maintaining that the shooting is an accident, nevertheless goes to jail for criminally negligent homicide. Pappalardi, 43, had produced Cream’s 'Disraeli Gears' and 'Wheels of Fire' albums. He is credited as a co-writer of Mountain’s Classic Rock (and Classic Cowbell) staple, “Mississippi Queen.”

1987: Drummer and percussionist Carlton Barrett of The Wailers is shot dead outside his house in Kingston, Jamaica.

1998: Linda McCartney dies after a long battle with cancer.

2008: Danny Federici, longtime keyboard and accordion player for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, dies of cancer. He is 58.

On a brighter note, born on this day were Don Kirshner (born in 1934, died Jan. 17, 2011), who was instrumental in developing the careers of Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Harry Nilsson, The Monkees and The Archies, and Victoria Adams (born in 1974), who later became better known as Posh Spice, then Mrs. David Beckham.

So anyway, be careful out there, and don't say we didn't warn you.

Al Tays is not a superstitious person. But he does fumble around on a guitar from time to time, so we told him to stay home and learn the chords to Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Lucky Man." (For an acoustic version by Greg Lake click here.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Get in the groove today

It slipped up on us, but there's still plenty of time to take part in National Record Store Day.  You can find a list of participating stores by clicking here:

We admit that when we need our music quickly we sometimes click on, but -- to borrow a musical phrasing -- you can' always get what you want there.  And it's just not going to be the same experience you get cruising the aisles of a record store.

So get out there today, scarf up some long-lost vinyl, fill your growing CD want list and take advantage of the special promotions and deals.

Record stores rule.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It came out of the garage

Welcome to the second installment of Tuesdays with Tierney at the Sanctuary, where we fight through the chaos, angst and blood to find the pulse of rock 'n' roll. It ain't easy being us.

By Mike Tierney

Garage rocker Jay Reatard, a.k.a.
Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., didn't make it to 30.
An e-mail invitation popped up to a screening of "New Garage Explosion !!: In Love With These Times," a documentary film about contemporary garage bands, at a nearby cinema. In dire need of a reboot to update me on the subgenre, I took up the offer.

Now, my idea of garage leans more pop than the movie's producers. These bands bled punk, though maybe that is what passes for garage these days.

Nonetheless, the dozen or so groups featured displayed snippets of talent and the requisite chaotic energy. Some were intentionally sloppy, others inadvertently so. There was the occasional odd instrument (a fiddle, a keyboard) thrown in that would cause the Sex Pistols (or the deceased members) to spin in their graves.

I should not have been surprised that, in these do-it-yourself technological times, these guys can control the recording process from start to finish. Still, the sight of an album-presser churning out discs in someone's apartment triggered a double-take.

Seizing the most face time in the film was a fellow with the stage name Jay Reatard from Memphis. Passionate and marginally talented, he managed to break through the rank-and-file, landing record deals.

To get noticed, many depicted acts adopted outrageous tactics, from wearing masks to acting androgynously. Reatard's M.O. seemed to be mixing it up with audience members. One fuzzy scene appeared to show him urinating onstage.

As the credits rolled, we learned that Reatard died before the film was finished. First thing I did upon returning home was Google this Reatard chap, learning that he had carried on the tradition of punk by expiring of a drug overdose. He was 29.

The flick caught me up on a form of music that warrants no air play, except maybe on college radio stations, and helped lay to rest any concerns that Neil Young was wrong when he wailed, "Rock 'n' roll will never die."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The original mop top

By Al Tays

The first album I ever bought was Meet the Beatles! -- which, if I remember correctly, cost $3.49 (which was big bucks for an 11-year-old kid).

The album was released in January 1964, but I didn't buy it until after I watched the Fab Four on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of that year. (That was a great month -- I also listened to the radio broadcast of the Clay-Liston fight from Miami Beach.)

The Beatles WERE music, as far as I was concerned. I'd heard other stuff on the radio and shuffled though my older brothers' records (the Kingston Trio's "From the Hungry i" is the only one I can specifically remember), but nothing made any impression on me until I heard the Beatles.

I bought the album, devoured the liner notes, memorized all the lyrics. I started collecting Beatles cards. Them I could afford.

It was only later that I learned about Stu Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe died 49 years ago today, on April 10, 1962. He suffered a brain aneurysm and died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital. He was 21.

Sutcliffe didn't live to witness a lot of Beatles milestones. He left the group to pursue a career as an artist in July 1961. They had their first recording session at Abbey Road Studios under the direction of George Martin two months after he died.

Even if Sutcliffe had lived and not left the group on his own, it's possible he might have met the same fate as original drummer Pete Best, who was -- wait for it -- drummed out. By many accounts, Sutcliffe was a mediocre bass player. He also apparently had a personality conflict with Paul McCartney (but he was very close to John Lennon, a relationship dramatized in the movie Backbeat).

But without Stu Sutcliffe, the Beatles' history might have been very different. His girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, is credited with transforming the band's look from slicked-back hair to the famous moptop.

Kirchherr has said her role has been over-dramatized (gee, imagine that). In 1995 she told the BBC that her then-boyfriend, Klaus Voorman, wore his hair in what would become the Beatles style, and Sutcliffe liked it and adopted it. Harrison, Lennon and McCartney followed. Manager Brian Epstein is credited with getting them out of leather jackets and jeans and into suits, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In honor of Sutcliffe, here are my 10 favorite songs with great bass lines. This is by no means a definitive Top 10 list. I'm sure there are dozens of songs I missed or am not aware of. So help a brother out and gimme your picks.

1. My Generation, The Who (John Entwhistle on bass)
2. Get Out of Denver, Bob Seger (Chris Campbell on bass)
3. Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Queen (John Deacon on bass)
4. Sunshine of Your Love, Cream (Jack Bruce on bass)
5. Green Eyed Lady, Sugarloaf (Bob Raymond on bass)
6. Play That Funky Music White Boy, Wild Cherry (Allen Wentz on bass)
7. Midnight Confessions, The Grass Roots (Rob Grill on bass)
8. Take a Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed (Herbie Flowers on double bass and overdubbed fretless bass)
9. Come Together, The Beatles (Paul McCartney on bass)
10. Seinfeld theme (composed by Jonathan Wolff; I think he played it -- on a bass synthesizer, not a guitar -- but I'm not sure)

C ya next time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

We love this game

We're headed out for our first game of the season tonight, Cubbies vs. Brewers, Garza vs. Narveson at sold-out Miller Park.  It is sweet to live less than 10 minutes from a major league ballpark where the tailgating is second to none and the home team has designs on postseason play. The promise of April renews us all.

"A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz," Humphrey Bogart once said. How true. And the brats? Even better.  But we won't wait until game time for the first bite. They'll be sizzling on grills in the parking lot three hours before the game, and the beer will be flowing.  Can't wait.

Once inside the ballpark we'll settle in for another spirited border battle between the Cubs and Crew, the always thrilling Sausage Race and a stirring rendition of the "Beer Barrel Polka."

Wish you could be here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The night Hank yanked No. 715

In 20 major league seasons Hank Aaron had never hit a home run on Opening Day. So when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered the Atlanta Braves to play Aaron in Cincinnati’s opener on April 4, 1974, a frigid day at Riverfront Stadium, there was no real fear that Babe Ruth’s cherished record would fall.

But on his first swing, a 3-1 pitch, Aaron launched the ball over the fence to tie Ruth at 714 homers. Would the mighty record fall in Cincinnati instead of Atlanta, which was determined to play host to history? Braves manager Eddie Mathews, Aaron’s longtime teammate and friend, did his part by sitting the slugger in Game 2 before Kuhn once again used his clout, forcing Aaron back into the lineup for the third and final game in Cincy. Aaron obligingly went 0-for-3 and the Braves headed home, setting the stage for the grandest moment in Fulton County Stadium history.

On this day in 1974 Aaron launched a 1-0 offering from Dodgers pitcher Al Downing –who had been booed for walking Aaron on five pitches in their first go-around – over the left field wall, setting off a mad celebration that forever dwells in our memory banks. No. 715. Baseball’s untouchable record had been eclipsed by a player that Yankee great Mickey Mantle called the greatest of his generation. Click here to relive the magical moment:

Ruth's record wasn’t an easy mountain to scale for a black man from Mobile, Alabama, as songwriter Peter Cooper recounts in “715 (for Hank Aaron)” from his Red Beet Records release Mission Door. We mentioned this back in February on the occasion of Hammerin' Hank’s birthday, and damned if we still can’t find a video or audio clip of that song.

We hope you’ll accept the substitute above. It’s an enjoyable exchange between Red Beet stablemates Cooper and Eric Brace, who wrap it up by performing Cooper’s “Andalusia,” which at least gets us into Alabama where Aaron grew up and learned to swing a bat, and where Cooper mined two great songs.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

At Sixty

"Society's Child" in 1967 made her famous -- and controversial -- at the age of 16.  But it was "At Seventeen" that won us over in 1975, the year Janis Ian turned 24 and won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance. Her album Between the Lines that year was a revelation, and we played the grooves out of it on our Pioneer turntable in a dive apartment in Ocala, Florida.

Check out the video above from the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test.  Then do yourself a favor and click on this link as well because Janis Ian, who turns 60 today, knows the truth and has the perspective we all seek in music and in life.

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hats off to Haggard

Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell With no kind of chance for the flag or the liberty bell
Wish a Ford and a Chevy
Could still last ten years like they should
Is the best of the free life behind us now
Are the good times really over for good

Things have been heading south since Merle Haggard wrote "Are the Good Times Really Over" back in 1981. Let's not even go into detail.

But you know what? Haggard turns 74 today and in another month he'll be back on tour, spreading his working man blues to audiences that can't get enough of a bad thing. And that's a good thing.

Haggard has cranked out more than 30 No. 1 songs and he's been in the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1994. And that stretch of time he did at San Quentin before he got his first recording contract? Hell, that was erased by a pardon back when Ronald Reagan was governor of California.

Everything is relative, and we have to believe that life has been relatively good to Haggard, despite the downtrodden tone and lyrics to most of his songs.  We love 'em all, but if forced to list our 10 favorites right here and now it would go something like this (some days we'd switch the order; some days we'd pick different songs):

1. Workin' Man Blues
2. I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink
3. Okie From Muskogee
4. The Fightin' Side of Me
5. If We Make It Through December
6. Mama Tried
7. Daddy Frank
8. Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star
9. Bar Room Buddies
10. Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room

UPDATE: Spooky, after posting today we received this email from

Dear Customer,
Customers who have purchased or rated music by Merle Haggard might like to know that 20 hits is now available. You can order yours for just $9.98 by following the link below.  20 hits by Merle Haggard, Price: $9.98

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's baseball season, let's play two (sets)

Meet a new Sanctuarian: Mike Tierney has lived in Atlanta for almost a quarter-century, which damn near makes him a native, though he refuses to snip his Kentucky roots. His life-long passion for live music has dwindled from bi-monthly concerts to quarterly, but he still regularly lends an ear to guitar-driven, bass-and-drums-pounding music, both fresh and venerable.

By Mike Tierney
Tuesdays with
Tierney has a
nice legitimate
ring to it, so
check here on
this day for the
latest from our
greatest Atlanta
The Star Bar in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta pretty much meets the definition of a dive bar. It offers only two choices on draught that represent the extremes of the popular beer spectrum, Miller High Life and Guinness. (Most patrons opt for PBR in a can.) If you ever invited a hundred of your closest friends there, they would have to be thin or highly tolerable, given the compactness of the place.

Hardly the locale you would expect to see three-fifths of R.E.M. on what amounts to the Star Bar stage. That is, if you stood on tiptoe, the stage rising maybe a foot off the ground.

The occasion was the tour opener, as it were, for The Baseball Project, a side venture of various R.E.M.-ers and an underappreciated rocker named Steve Wynn, the force behind the '80s cult band Dream Syndicate.

Turns out, Wynn is a onetime aspiring sportswriter who found he shared a passion for baseball with R.E.M. guitarists Peter Buck and Scott McGaughey (who has yet to be designated an official member because management, a la Chuck Leavell with the Rolling Stones, stubbornly recognizes only the originals.)

Anyhoo, Wynn and his drummer/wife just released the second Baseball Project album (CD? record? collection of downloadable songs?) even as R.E.M. just unveiled theirs.

Instead of touring with Michael Stipe in large arenas, Buck and McGaughey are doing claustrophobic clubs with the vastly unerappreciated Wynn, who can string together basic chords like nobody's business.

Better yet, the songs spin narratives of real baseball happenings, from the recent to the distant past. They are rich in detail, often funny, always interesting. (One catchy number is "Ted F*@*ing Williams").

And ya gotta love a chick pounding the tom-tom and singing about the Minnesota Twins.

Oh, yeah, the reference to three-fifths. On the edge of the stage, hunched over a keyboard, was guest performer Mike Mills, an Atlantan who dropped by to see his pals and lend a valuable sound to the mix. (Confused? Understandable. With R.E.M., Mills plays bass, a duty that Buck has adopted with The Baseball Project).

The night delivered a batch of songs that brought smiles and tapping toes, not to mention lasting visual memories of a majority of the incomparable band from Athens spreading their wings.

The Baseball Project may be coming to a town near you -- in more spacious venues, to be sure, than the Star Bar. They are worth hearing, if not seeing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Memory of Berry Oakley

You will not find Berry Oakley's name on the Rolling Stone list of the 10 greatest bass players of all time, as chosen recently by the magazine's readers.  Listen to the Allman Brothers' album Live at the Fillmore East and please tell us why?

(Nor will you find James Jamerson of the Funk Brothers, Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone, Donald "Duck" Dunn or Bootsy Collins on this list.  We weren't even going to bring up Tina Weymouth, but we watched Stop Making Sense again last week and couldn't help ourselves.)

We take up defense of Oakley today, though, on what would have been his 63rd birthday.  As most of us remember he died in 1972 following a motorcycle accident within a few blocks of where bandmate Duane Allman was killed just a year earlier. Spooky stuff.

We loved Oakley's contributions to the Allman Brothers and believe he should be on anybody's list of favorite bass players.  We realize this is subjective stuff, but just follow "Whipping Post" through its 23:03 run and see if you don't agree.  "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" might also help convince you.

Here is the Rolling Stone list:

1. John Entwistle, The Who
2. Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers
3. Paul McCartney, Beatles
4. Geddy Lee, Rush
5. Les Claypool, Primus
6. John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin
7. Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report, et al
8. Jack  Bruce, Cream
9. Cliff  Burton, Metallica
10. Victor Wooten, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Throwing you a curve

By Al Tays

SSS contributor Al Tays is a native
Bostonian currently sampling the
Left Coast lifestyle. The highlights
so far: Discovering L.A. street dogs,
listening to Junior Brown's "Surf
Medley" while driving his Chrysler
Sebring convertible down the Pacific
Coast Highway, and taking his wife
to Vegas so they could get re-married
by Elvis. Meanwhile, Pumpkin the
cockatiel digs Charlie Parker.
 When you're new to a place as famous as L.A., there are lots of L.A. things to do. Which is how Mrs. Assistant Music Blogger and I found ourselves one day cruising the Sunset Strip, heading west and looking for Dead Man's Curve.

I bring this up because today would have been Jan Berry's 70th birthday. Unfortunately the "Jan" of Jan and Dean died in 2004 at age 62. He had been in poor health for years, the result of brain damage suffered in a 1966 car crash near -- but not at -- Dead Man's Curve.

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence were the guys who sounded a lot like the Beach Boys, doing songs that celebrated surfing and cars. They went to No. 1 with "Surf City" (written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson) in 1963, No. 3 with "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" in 1964 and No. 8 that same year with "Dead Man's Curve."

Not gonna lie -- I wasn't a big fan of "Dead Man's Curve." As a car song, I never thought it stood up to "Little GTO," "Little Deuce Coupe," "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" (what was with all the "littles"?) or "Hot Rod Lincoln."

But you'd be hard pressed to find a song with more lore. Berry crashed his Corvette (the two cars in the song were a Corvette Stingray and a Jaguar XKE) into a parked truck on Whittier Drive, a street that intersects Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

It's accepted that Dead Man's Curve is on Sunset -- in the song, the race starts at Sunset and Vine -- but exactly where is it? Sunset turns almost 90 degrees just west of Whittier, but is that Dead Man's Curve? When my wife and I drove Sunset all the way to the Pacific Coast Highway, we counted 11 different bends where we said, "This HAS to be it."

In researching this subject I found some support for Dead Man's Curve being just north of the UCLA campus, about a mile west of where Berry crashed.

Another part of the Dead Man's Curve story is its link to Bugs Bunny. (No, I haven't gone around the bend -- pun intended. Work with me here.)

On Jan. 24, 1961, Mel Blanc, the voice actor most famous for his cartoon characters, was involved in a head-on crash on Sunset. Blanc suffered a skull fracture and was in a coma for three weeks. According to his autobiography, some of the thousands of get-well cards he received were addressed simply to "Bugs Bunny, Hollywood, USA."

Some reports say the song was inspired by Blanc's crash, but I'm not buying it. Stories of tragic ends to drag races are as old as cars themselves, and I've yet to come across a definitive reference to Berry or the songwriter he worked with, Roger Christian, verifying a Blanc connection.

One last word about the song. Apparently Christian wanted the race to end in a tie, but Berry insisted on a crash. Spooky.

So let's end things here on a happier note. What do you think are the 10 best car songs of all time? Got plenty to choose from. Here's my list:

1. Mustang Sally, Wilson Pickett (love The Commitments' version, too)
2. Little GTO, Ronny & the Daytonas
3. Fun, Fun, Fun, Beach Boys
4. Little Old Lady From Pasadena, Jan and Dean
5. Cadillac Ranch, Bruce Springsteen
6. Maybelline, Chuck Berry
7. Low Rider, War
8. Hot Rod Lincoln, Commander Cody
9. Little Deuce Coupe, Beach Boys
10. Mercury Blues, David Lindley

Now show me yours. C ya next week.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What's going on

We couldn't believe our eyes upon gazing at today's Birthday Band.  This group is so impressive we decided to "tap", our reliable source for all things astrological. Here's an excerpt from the website's profile for April 2:

Many good musicians, authors and artists are born on this day and so you too may be endowed with a sense of the aesthetic and artistic. You exhibit high imagination, idealism and are no doubt a dreamer who likes to fantasise. You will need a very strong sense of your own personal and domestic space. ... It is important for you to control your fiery emotions and direct that energy constructively.

Now it might just be a pile of hoo-hah, but this being the birthday of Marvin Gaye we can't help but wonder about the circumstances surrounding his death. We know he was fatally shot by his father during an argument on April 1, 1984, just one day short of his 45th birthday. Those are the facts, and we'll stick to them because today also happens to be the birthday of Jack Webb.

But they won't stop us from putting What's Going On in the player, listening to a sacred collection of songs and reflecting on a truly gifted artist. In the liner notes to the 1971 album Gaye thanks his parents "for conceiving, having and loving me," and adds "check out the Ten Commandments too. You can't go too far wrong if you live them, dig it. ... Thanks for life and loved ones. Thank you Jesus."

Marvin Gaye (1939-1984), Singer
I Heard It Through the Grapevine, What's Going On, Sexual Healing

Leon Russell (1942): Singer, keyboards
Tight Rope, Lady Blue

Glen Dale (1943): Guitar/vocals,  The Fortunes
You've Got Your Troubles, Here It Comes Again

Kurt Winter (1946-1997): Guitar, Guess Who
Share The Land , Bus Rider, Hand Me Down World

Leon Wilkeson (1952-2001): Bass, Lynyrd Skynyrd
Sweet Home Alabama, Gimme Three Steps, Free Bird

David Robinson (1953): Drums, Cars
My Best Friend's Girl, Shake It Up, Drive

Friday, April 1, 2011

Buffalo Springfield again

It ended for Buffalo Springfield on May 5, 1968 at the Long Beach Arena, barely two years after it had begun. With a lineup that included Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, there was definitely something happening there. But what it was, as the lyrics explained, wasn't exactly clear. Not at the time it wasn't.

"For What It's Worth" -- the band's signature hit -- topped out at No. 7 . "Expecting to Fly" from the self-titled debut album barely cracked the Hot 100 (No. 98). And the cultish "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" never never sniffed the charts. This was not a singles band. Nevertheless Buffalo Springfield generated three fine albums before its members splintered off to do much grander things.

And now, 43 years later, the band is back for six California shows and an appearance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. The lineup will include Young, Stills and Furay, along with bass player Rick Rosas and drummer Joe Vitale.

The schedule:

June 1, Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
June 2, Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
June 4, Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, CA
June 5, Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, CA
June 7, Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA
June 8, Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA
June 11, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, TN

Word is there will be a national tour cranking up in September. Here's hopin' ...