Thursday, June 30, 2011

The harder they fall

We've never owned the 1977 album Two the Hard Way and apparently we aren't the only ones. It was a dismal failure for the artists, Allman and Woman (you can figure this out without our help).

In rating the album "worthless," the Rolling Stone Record Guide review poured on the hurt: "It's hard to imagine a more inappropriate combination ... It's the bottom of the barrel after a long fall for Gregg, and more of the same for Cher." Ouch.

Cher and Gregg Allman, what was that all about anyway? We know little about their ill-fated marriage, other than the fact that the act was consummated on this day in 1975, just three days after Cher's divorce from Sonny Bono had been finalized. And it was over by 1979 (although Cher first filed for divorce nine days after they got hitched).  In between there was this People magazine profile of the couple and their intention of making the union work:,,20066918,00.html

Hey, not even the tabloids get it right every time.  Nor, apparently, does the Rolling Stone Record Guide.  OK, we still haven't listened to the album, but we strapped ourselves to YouTube long enough to hear the then-lovebirds sing the Smokey Robinson staple "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," and it isn't dreadful at all. In fact it's pretty good.

Go ahead and listen for yourself, on what would have been Cher and Gregg's 36th anniversary.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life under the Bigtop

A seller on EBay wants $50 for a mint-condition 45 rpm record of Del Shannon's "Two Silhouettes."  What's up with dat?

Under the Bigtop: The B side of
Del Shannon's "Two Silhouettes"
is the gem "From Me to You."
We'll tell you what.  The flip side is "From Me to You," which has the distinction of being the first song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney to chart in the U.S. (and one of the last to be credited McCartney-Lennon.) 

Now that alone doesn't explain why someone would ask $50 for a vinyl single.  But it is nevertheless an interesting story to track.

Shannon's version of "From Me to You" entered the Billboard Hot 100 on June 29, 1963 and remained there four weeks, stalling at No. 77.   (Curiously, "Two Silhouettes" didn't chart at all in the U.S., but made it to No. 23 in the UK, which loved the American rocker.)

Remember, nobody on this side of the pond in mid-1963 had heard of the Beatles. Shannon knew them, though, after appearing with them during a 15-act show at the Royal Albert Hall in London in April of that year. The Beatles played "From Me to You" at the concert and Shannon -- who knew a good song when he heard it, especially when it involved some falsetto -- brought the song back with him to the U.S. and recorded a faithful version on his label, Bigtop Records.

We were surprised to learn the Beatles' original "From Me to You," a chart-topper in the UK, never made it higher than No. 41 in the U.S. It's a fab song from the group's "invasion phase" -- they played it during their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 16, 1964 -- but we're guessing it was lost in the flurry of other great releases like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You" and "Please Please Me."

Shannon's cover is no slouch either. Give it a listen today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sticks to you like flypaper

By Mike Tierney

No pop song in the past six months has combined catchy and classy as much as "Down by the Water" by the Decemberists.

Frontman-writer Colin Meloy marries the band's folk sensibilities with lively indie rock, built on surprisingly hyper-active percussion and spiced by a lively accordion, to create a tune that, once heard, is not easily dislodged from your brain.

The song's thread is a standard guitar line that seemed stolen from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck. Not guilty, given that Buck is the player on "Down by the Water" as well as the producer of the uneven but pleasing album, "The King is Dead."

So the news was initially welcome that Meloy had agreed to drop by my little town, tucked into metro Atlanta, on Labor Day weekend. But the devil is in the details, and it was disappointing to learn this detail: He will appear not as music-maker but wordsmith.

Meloy, along with his artist-wife, will headline the Decatur Book Festival, promoting the launch of their adult-aimed fantasy trilogy.

I don't suppose Meloy will pack his guitar, at least for public consumption. So, having missed the Decemberists' tour, I will have to bide my time with the CD and YouTube videos.

But I will cut Meloy some slack. Some years ago, the former creative writing major in college penned a quick-read listener's appreciation of the Replacements' gem, "Let It Be." That book makes him all right in my book.

Still, it would be nice if Meloy brought his guitar to the festival, should the mood strike.

When the mood strikes Mike Tierney contributes thoughtful commentary for the Sanctuary from his musical tramping grounds in Atlanta.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Uncovering a stinker

By Al Tays

When it comes to covers
our intrepid contributor
Al Tays has it covered.
Which is why we can't
in good conscience
provide links to a
very regrettable song.
Interesting confluence of history on this date: In 2008, Total Guitar magazine named Celine Dion's cover of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" as the worst cover ever. And in 1965, the Byrds went to No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with their landmark cover of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Now, I had never heard Ms. Dion's version of "You Shook me All Night Long," but in the interest of journalistic integrity, I YouTubed it. Wow. That's 4 minutes and 25 seconds I'll never get back. My eyes! My ears! Make it stop!

YouTube also has a video of Shania Twain doing this song live, and I've gotta say ... it was worse. Backed by the sublime Alison Krauss and Union Station, Twain countrified the song, which just emasculated it, as far as I'm concerned. It was almost as disturbing as Faith Hill's country ruination of "Piece of My Heart." You've probably heard Janis Joplin's classic version of this Jerry Ragovoy/Bert Berns tune, but to truly appreciate what a great piece of R&B genius this is, check out the original 1967 recording by Aretha Franklin's now-deceased older sister, Erma Franklin. Aretha wasn't the only one in that family with some pipes.

In fairness to Ms. Twain, she does have a personal connection to "You Shook me All Night Long." Her ex-husband, Mutt Lange, produced "Back in Black," the AC/DC album on which the song appeared. Still . . .

I like my covers to bring something different to the table, to take the song in a direction the original didn't go. You could say that Twain's and Hill's country versions of rock classics did that, but I don't like covers to rip the guts out of songs, either.

And this isn't an anti-country bias, either. I love me some country music. When it IS country music.

My favorite cover, by a wide margin, is of a country song - John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Check out the Toots and the Maytals version sometime. Now THAT's a cover I could listen to all night long.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Elvis interruptus

Markers don't lie: The spot in Madison, Wisconsin
where Elvis showed up to save the day in 1977.
The Elvis Information Network devoted 7,338 words to the retelling of this story, but until yesterday we weren't even aware -- even though it happened just a short drive down the freeway.

On this day in 1977 Elvis was riding in his limo in Madison, Wisconsin when he saw two teenagers whupping up on a younger kid outside a gas station. According to a police detective who witnessed the event, Elvis jumped out and challenged the teens, yelling "I'll take you on!"

The startled punks "looked up at him, froze in mid-punch and the victim ran into the gas station." Having saved the day and possibly a few of the kid's teeth, Elvis got back in the limo and headed to his room at the Sheraton.

For the unabridged story, click this link:

Just 53 days after his Good Samaritan deed the King of Rock 'n' Roll would be dead, a fact that may or may not be mentioned in those 7,338 words.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Someday comes for Steve Earle

We just read a Q&A with Steve Earle in Acoustic Guitar magazine in which he declares the greatest songwriter of his generation is ... Bruce Springsteen.

We found that surprising, but probably shouldn't have. Earle has always been a big fan of Springsteen. He recorded a great live version of "State Trooper" that was included as a bonus track on the 2002 reissue of Guitar Town.  If you go back and listen to that disc -- and we do, often, because it's such a great collection of songs -- you'll hear the Springsteen influence as much Earle's early mentor Townes Van Zant.

It's hard to avoid comparisions between Springsteen's rebel anthem "Born To Run" and Earle's "Someday." Both want to get out of Dodge while the getting's good.  We used to count out-of-state plates at a filling station in a one-horse town, so we understand the sentiments expressed in "Someday."

There ain't a lot that you can do in this town
You drive down to the lake and then you turn back around
You go to school and you learn to read and write
So you can walk into that county bank and sign away your life

I work at the fillin' station on the interstate
Pumpin' gasoline and countin' out of state plates
They ask me how far into Memphis son and where's the nearest beer
They don't even know that there's a town around here

Someday I'm finally gonna let go
'Cause I know there's a better way
And I wanna know what's over that rainbow
I'm gonna get out of here someday

Now my brother went to college 'cause he played football
I'm still hangin' round 'cause I'm a little bit small
I got me a 67 Chevy, she's low and sleek and black
Someday I'll put her on that interstate and never look back

Earle finally put her on the interstate -- to New York City -- and he's never looked back at Tennessee, or Texas for that matter. Not much cowboy rebel left in those bones, or so it seems, and there's nothing wrong with that (but we do wonder what Townes would've thought). We've seen him acting on TV, we're just starting to read his book I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive and we finally got around to ordering the new CD. We have tickets to his show at the Pabst Theater in July (thanks for adding that date).

You could say the second-best songwriter of his generation is keeping us busy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The meaning of Sundown

I can see her lying back in her satin dress
In a room where you do what you don't confess

Thus begins one of the most widely intrepretated songs in Gordon Lightfoot's impressive catalog. Was "Sundown" -- which was sitting pretty at No. 1 on the Billboard chart on this day in 1974 -- about:

a) a night in a whorehouse
b) Lightfoot's girlfriend cheating on him
c) Lightfoot's wife divorcing him
d) the hamlet in New York where the song was written
e) coping with alcoholism
e) a drag queen

Answer: All of the above.  (Kidding!!!!)  When we were listening to "Sundown" that summer it seemed obvious the song was about a hooker. But what did we know back then? A year after the song became a hit, Lightfoot offered his vague explanation in an interview with Crawdaddy magazine:

"All it is, is a thought about a situation where someone is wondering what his live one is doing at the moment. He doesn't quite know where she is. He's not ready to give up on her, either, and that's about all I got to say about that."

Well, that really clears things up! The best suggestion we've heard yet comes someone who left this interesting comment on

"'Sundown' was the nickname of a close friend of Mr. Lightfoot's who shall remain nameless. Suffice to say, Mr. Lightfoot began to suspect that his friend was having an affair with his first wife. This occurred at a point when Mr. Lightfoot's marriage was on the rocks to begin with, and also when he was struggling with pretty serious problem with alcohol and the violence that drinking tended to bring out of him. In this context, the meaning of each line of this song should be clear to you all."

If this is true, we've at least been able to eliminate the drag queen. And that's relief enough for now. Baby steps...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The apple of our eye

Within a month of relocating here to Wisconsin in 2009 we found occasion to write about O.C. Smith's gem "Little Green Apples," which had the misfortune of charting at the same time (fall of 1968) as "Hey Jude." Now here we are again because today would have been O.C.'s 79th birthday and, well, we just dig that song and the man who sang it.

With "Hey Jude" spending eight weeks atop of the Billboard chart there simply was no room for contenders. The Beatles essentially denied O.C. a chance for his only No. 1 hit.  What we didn't realize until our crack research team informed us: "Little Green Apples" also stalled at No. 2 on the R&B chart, blocked by the six-week run of James Brown's "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and Proud."  How you gonna mess with that?

O.C. himself was black and proud, but he didn't easily fit into the R&B niche. He recorded a lot of traditional songs that just happened to find airplay on R&B and Adult Contemporary radio stations. He was fed songs like "That's Life," and "Baby I Need Your Loving" and there was nothing wrong with them, but it wasn't like anybody was going to outsing Sinatra or the Four Tops.  And despite a great God-given voice, O.C. was hampered by some regrettable recording arrangements (check out "Wichita Lineman" on YouTube at your own peril).

But "Little Green Apples" was a different deal altogether. Give it a listen today, and hoist a glass to O.C. and the members of today's Birthday Band:

O.C. Smith (1932-2001): Singer
Little Green Apples, Daddy's Little Man, The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp

Ray Davies (1944): Singer/songwriter, Kinks
You Really Got Me, Well Respected Man, Lola

Miguel Vicens (1944): Bass, Los Bravos
Black Is Black

Joey Molland (1948): Guitar/Keyboards, Badfinger
Come and Get It, No Matter What, Baby Blue

Greg Munford (1949): Vocals, Strawberry Alarm Clock
Incense and Peppermints

Joey Kramer (1950): Drums, Aerosmith
Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion, Dream On

Nils Lofgren (1951): Guitar/keyboards, E Street Band
Played on Springstreen's Born in the USA tour

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ballad for the big man

Strumbum notes: Atlanta contributor Mike Tierney introduced us to Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band at the Lakeland Civic Center in Florida, circa 1978. Thirty-three years and many memorable concert experiences later we remain eternally grateful, and today we pay our respects to the band's beautiful big man, sax player Clarence Clemons.
Bruce Springsteen leaned heavily on Clarence Clemons.
By Mike Tierney

In the early 1980s, I found myself backstage after a Bruce Springsteen concert in Oakland, Calif., awaiting a one-on-one interview for which I had spent months arranging.

Well, Spingsteen's father, who had just moved to the area, showed up unexpectedly. Off they went, leaving me stranded. (Because these words are being typed on Father's Day, I feel a modicum of forgiveness, but no more than that.)

I did, however, take away a vivid memory from that frustrating night. Seems I wound up outside a separate dressing room designated for a single member of the E Street Band. The others, I believe, got on their game faces in a communal space.

You might have guessed that the special treatment was afforded to Clarence Clemons, the larger-than-life saxophonist who apparently required a larger-than-normal room. Curious, I was planning to ask Springsteen if other bandmates were jealous about the set-up.

Some years later, I learned second-hand through guitarist Nils Lofgren that Springsteen operates as a benevolent dictator who holds his sidekicks in high regard as long as they are clear that he calls the shots. In such hierachies, usually the others unite to commiserate or plot how to get their voice heard. So I have assumed ever since the rest were cool with the favoritism.

Clemons, who died Saturday at 69 from after-effects of a stroke, was a top-notch musician, but no better than the other players in the finest rock 'n' roll band ever to grace the planet. For most Springsteen songs, in fact, the sax sat idle, not lending a hand.

For good reason. Springsteen ingeniously picked the spots for the sax -- a song intro there, an instrumental break there, a fade-out when it fit. In doing so, he made the instrument's presence special. That is the secret of record-making: Leave 'em wanting more.

On the rare occasions when Clemons cut loose for an extended period, best illustrated in the chilling masterpiece "Jungleland," the moment rose to the level of Springsteen highlights. (Check out YouTube and notice the clips edited down to Clemons' segment on the tune.)

Springsteen respected the role of the sax in his genre, and he found a contributor who blew on one to emit the ideal sound that blended with "these drums and these guitars," as Bruce wailed in "No Surrender."

Of course, Clemons' character was the perfect foil for Springsteen onstage. He was big, black, stylish. Bruce is short, white, scruffy. Their interplay, which sometimes led to a lips-to-lips kiss, was knee-slapping entertaining and is what endeared most Bruceniks to the Big Man.

But it is music, not performance, that is forever, and what flew out of Clarence's instrument helped lift Springsteen's songs to an unparalled plane in the annals of pop music. They have, and will, stand the test of time.

A few years ago, I shared a hotel bar table in Atlanta for a minute with Clarence. Same as in Oakland 2 1/2 decades earlier, I heard were no memorable words, though at least I got small talk this time. What struck me was non-verbal -- his gait, slow and forced. I concluded he was not long for future E Street Band tours.

Turns out, he was not long for this earth. As his family prepares for burial, I am sure their grief is palpable. But I cannot imagine it being any greater than the suffering of Springsteen, who has lost a part of himself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Young and impressionable

By Al Tays 
When Left Coast contributor Al Tays informed us he
was writing about Kenley Young, our first thought was,
'What the ... ?' But if our guy says check it out...

As a battle-scarred veteran of the newspaper industry (otherwise known as "buggy-whip factories"), I was weaned on the concept that you couldn't write or publish anything unless it had a "news hook." Like "This is the 25th anniversary of the invention of the Flowbee," or something like that. God forbid that you write anything about the Flowbee on, say, some random date, or even a randomly numbered anniversary date. No 13th-anniversary Flowbee stories, y'all.

Regular readers of SSS will attest that we, too, operate in this manner, weekly noting some band that made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986 or somebody's eleventy-first birthday.

Which is all well and good, but as one of my favorite movie quotes goes: "Sometimes you have to say, "What the f**k."

So today, no anniversaries. Just an anecdote.

When it comes to music, I have a dual personality. Part of me loves the security of listening to stuff I know and love, over and over and over again. I'm certainly not alone there - why do you think mainstream radio plays the stuff it does?

But another part of me loves the thrill of finding something new - "new" often meaning "new to me," since it might be something that's been out for 25 years and I just never heard it.

I recently made a trip to a neighborhood bar in LA to hear a co-worker play a solo acoustic set. I know Kenley Young only as a superbly talented writer and editor. I knew he played guitar and had been in bands, but that was it. But when I heard him the other night, I was knocked out. Dude writes his own stuff, and he's good.

So this is not so much to pimp Mr. Young (but by all means check him out at, but to encourage you to keep expanding your horizons, and support your local music economy. Get out there to your local bars and clubs and coffee houses and check out your local artists. You never know what you'll find.

And while you're there, remember to say "What the f**k."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What a piece of ...

If Frank Sinatra would've had his way -- wait, didn't Frankie always do it his way? -- he never would have recorded "Strangers in the Night." And maybe "Paperback Writer" would have spent another week atop the Billboard chart in that sizzling musical summer of 1966.

Sinatra HATED the Croatian song that Bert Kaempfert had retooled as an instrumental for the movie A Man Could Get Killed. Sinatra not only despised the music and lyrics that were brought to him, he was bothered by the session guitarist who kept staring at him during the recording session.

The guitarist was none other than Glen Campbell, who recalled in a 2008 interview:  "Frank asked (producer) Jimmy Bowen, 'Who's the fag guitarist over there?' I told him I'd slap him if he said that again."  (A year later nobody was pimping Campbell after he rose to stardom himself, beginning with the immensely popular "Gentle on My Mind.")

Sinatra's "scooby dooby doo" ending on "Strangers in the Night"? It was a dismissive ad-lib.  When the record vaulted to the top of the chart that summer -- overtaking rock gems like "Paint It Black" and "Paperback Writer" -- the artist probably viewed adoring fans as gullible suckers. After all, he had called the song that would become his first pop No. 1 in 11 years "a piece of shit."

Now how's that for showing gratitude?

Friday, June 17, 2011

A pissing match waiting to happen

The Who's Next album cover. The
music inside also left a mark
at the Sanctuary.
Here they are, the Top 10 album covers of all time, according to a Rolling Stone magazine readers poll.  (It's obvious the list is limited to rock music; there are some jazz album covers that artistically would blow most of these away.)

1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Beatles
2. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
3. Nevermind, Nirvana
4. Abbey Road, Beatles
5. London Calling, The Clash
6. Sticky Fingers, Rolling Stones
7. Revolver, Beatles
8. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
9. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
10. The Velvet Underground & Nico, Velvet Underground

It's a decent, if somewhat predictable, list. We find it troubling that two groups (Beatles, Pink Floyd) are hogging half the covers. If we had been choosing we might have tried to slip in Who's Next by the Who, Music From Big Pink by Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin or Led Zeppelin IV, Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Springsteen's Born in the USA, and the Stones' original Beggars Banquet cover showing graffiti on a lavatory wall (reissued in 2002). Yeah, we just had to piss on their list.

RS notes that only five people depicted on the celebrated Sgt. Peppers cover -- always a popular pick -- are still with us: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, of course, along with Bob Dylan, Dion DiMucci and Shirley Temple.  (The late actor Leo Gorcey of Bowery Boys fame was nixed from the cover after his agent demanded $400. He died two years later.)

Click here to view the RS Top 10 (and we hope that you enjoy the show).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thank you, Andrew Gold

And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You'll hear me call, as we ascend
I'll see you there, then once again
Thank you for being a friend

How could we have known while referencing Andrew Gold last August in a blog about fireflies that we would be reading his obituary this summer. Gone at age 59? That's way too early. Gold died this month in L.A. of an apparent heart attack. He was being treated for renal cancer.

Gold was an accomplished musician and songwriter with an impressive pedigree. His father won an Academy Award for writing the musical score to Exodus. His mother provided the voices for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, among others.

If you don't remember Gold from his solo days in the 70's he might have escaped your attention altogether. He enjoyed a Top 10 hit with "Lonely Boy" from his 1976 album What's Wrong With This Picture. His 1978 song "Thank You For Being a Friend" would years later become the theme for TV's The Golden Girls. He sang the theme song to Mad About You. And before all of that success he spent four years in Linda Ronstadt's band when she was belting out hits like "You're No Good," "Heat Wave" and "When Will I Be Loved."

So if you didn't know Gold it might be your own fault. Either way, you can read his obituary in the New York Times by clicking this link:

To catch a glimpse of him on stage check out the "Lonely Boy" video above.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sayonara to Kyu Sakamoto

One of the 509 passengers who boarded ill-fated JAL Flight 123 in Tokyo on August 12, 1985 was Kyu Sakamoto.

Twenty two summers earlier Sakamoto, at age 21, was a curious sensation in America after his song "Sukiyaki" became the first No. 1 hit by a Japanese artist.  Here was the Billboard Top 5 on this day in 1963:

1. Sukiyaki, Kyu Sakamoto
2. It's My Party, Leslie Gore
3. You Can't Sit Down, Dovells
4. Da Doo Ron Ron, Crystals
5. I Love You Because, Al Martino

Wildly popular in his native country, Sakamoto had a string of hits in Japan by the time "Sukiyaki" hit the top of the U.S. charts. (The real title of the song was "Ue O Muite Aruko," but that wasn't going to sell many records in the U.S.)

That was all we would hear from Sakamoto until 1985 when the Boeing 747 crashed into a wooded mountainside 60 miles northwest of Tokyo.  Miraculously there were four survivors, but Sakamoto was not one of them. He was 43.

We remember hearing "Sukiyaki" blaring from the radio in a 1959 Pontiac Catalina.  It was the summer of '63, the dial was tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities and life as we knew it then was very, very good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rock on with Rod-A

We loved the Zombies, and don't believe Rod Argent has ever received proper credit for his contributions to rock music.

Being anal career journalists it is hard to defend an artist whose most famous work contains a major typographical error.  But that is the case with the Zombies' masterful 1967 album Odessey and Oracle, which includes the surprise hit "Time of the Season," the Faulknerian "A Rose for Emily" (both written by Argent) and the World War I plaint "Butcher's Tale." Members of the band at the time said the misspelling of "odyssey" was intentional, but (wink, wink) we know better.

It was another example of a band dispersing before the greatness of its album was realized. Argent and bassist Chris White had already formed Argent by the time "Time of the Season" rose to No. 3 on the U.S. chart. Surely you remember their continuing contribution in the form of the Top 10 hit "Hold Your Head Up."

It's Argent's birthday today -- happy 66th, mate! -- so we're offering up a taste of early Zombies. Do you remember The People's (only) 1968 hit "I Love You"? It was written by White and recorded first by the Zombies. So listen up -- pay particular attention to Argent's nifty keyboard work at 2:05 -- and join us in toasting today's Birthday Band:

Renaldo "Obie" Benson (1936-2005): Vocals, The Four Tops
Reach Out I'll Be There, I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)

Junior Walker (1931-95): Vocals, Junior Walker and the All Stars
Shotgun, (I'm a) Road Runner, Come See About Me

Rod Argent (1945): Keyboards, Zombies/Argent
She's Not There, Time of the Season, Hold Your Head Up

Alan White (1949): Drummer, Yes/Plastic Ono Band
Owner Of A Lonely Heart, I've Seen All Good People, Roundabout

Boy George (1961): Singer, Culture Club
Karma Chameleon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I (heart) Brad Delp

By Al Tays

We couldn't find anybody more qualified to
write about Boston's lead singer Brad Delp
(above) than Boston native Al Tays, a regular
contributor on Sundays at the Sanctuary.
A very bittersweet birthday observance today. Brad Delp, the original lead singer for Boston, was born on this day in 1951, so he would have been 60. But sadly, a deeply depressed Delp committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in March 2007.

I've never heard another band that sounded anything like Boston, nor another singer that sounded anything like Delp. His vocals, combined with band founder Tom Scholz's guitar and engineering genius, produced a magical sound. As a native Bostonian (if you count the suburbs), I'd love their sound even if they had called themselves New York.

Scholz once described the chemistry between his instrumentation and Delp's vocals thusly: "It went from a guitar lick that didn't mean a thing to a real song as soon as he opened his mouth." The combination resonated with rock and roll fans everywhere. Boston's self-titled debut album, released in 1976, sold more than 17 million copies, making it at the time the biggest-selling debut album ever (it was later surpassed by Guns N' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction").
The aftermath of Delp's death has been a regrettable tangle of accusations and lawsuits involving current and former band members and Delp's family and friends. Unfortunately such animosity is not uncommon among bands, especially long-lived ones, but that doesn't make the latest chapter in the story of Delp and Scholz and Boston any less depressing.

No, Delp's birthday should be a time of celebration of a great band and a great singer. So click on the video, smile at the hair and the 'staches and let the music take you back to 1976. On this day, it's OK to look back.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A list from LaLa Land

Lowell George and Little Feat could smoke
many of the bands on this list.
Thanks to our buddy Wayne "the Train" Shelor for passing along this list of the 50 Greatest L.A. bands (according to Los Angeles Magazine). We admit we have a much easier time ranking bands from our old Wisconsin hometown.  It would go something like this:

1. The Lonely Ones
2. The Probes

(If we included country and polka bands it would get a bit more interesting. And now we MUST mention The Rhythm Playboys. Just thinking about Dewey slamming the piano keys on "From a Jack to a King" brings a wistful tear. )

L.A., now that's a different deal. It's a daunting task just to compile a comprehensive list of bands that sprang up in L.A., much less put them in some logical order of significance.  Otherwise how could you completely forget about Little Feat? Ah, but it's not our place to shoot holes in this list. Of course that shouldn't stop you, so here you go:

1. Doors
2. Beach Boys
3. Byrds
4. Buffalo Springfield
5. Los Lobos
6. Seeds
7. Guns N' Roses
8. Monkees
9. War
10. N.W.A.
11. Crosby Stills & Nash
12. Germs
13. Metallica
14. X
15. Van Halen
16. Go-Go's
17. Eagles
18. Red Hot Chili Peppers
19. Chambers Brothers
20. Suicidal Tendencies
21. Tool
22. Bangles
23. Slayer
24. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
25. Rage Against the Machine
26. Maroon 5
27. Black Flag
28. Jane's Addiction
29. Toto
30. Mother's of Invention
31. Runaways
32. Berlin
33. Linkin Park
34. Poco
35. Turtles
36. Oingo Boingo
37. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
38. Motley Crue
39. Sparks
40. Blasters
41. Association
42. Flying Burrito Brothers
43. Ozomatli
44. Canned Heat
45. Love
46. Weezer
47. Megadeth
48. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
49. Sublime
50. Surfaris

Friday, June 10, 2011

Unmasking J Mascis

Come on wait for me
Is it done ...
Come on wait for me
Is it done...

We are not disciples of Dinasour Jr., so we admit we were only vaguely familiar with frontman J Mascis and his brand of indie rock. (Mostly we have never been able to get past the fact that he bears a striking resemblance to long lost Aunt Jane.) Now this is quite an admission since Mascis has been making his mark as a fret-shredding guitarist and songwriter for nearly 30 years.

It took the release of the acoustic album Several Shades of Why (Sub Pop) to bring Mascis into the Sanctuary's inner sanctum (Sis for those unfamiliar).  And now that he is here we are obliged to give the man his due.

Several Shades of Why has a good chance of winning you over. There are contributions from other artists,  but mostly this is a solo foray into Acousticville, where the thoughtful strumming and occasional lead riffs leave room for lyrics to be heard and digested. And what quiet, revealing paths they lead us down.  Check out the video for "Is It Done," easily the catchiest of the 10 songs, and you'll see what we mean.

Sometimes a great electric guitarist needs to turn down the distortion long enough -- or unplug altogether -- to hear the beating of his own heart. And by doing so the rest of us get to hear it too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Strum along with Google, Les Paul

Thanks to Google and Les Paul you can be a guitar player today on your computer.

To celebrate the guitar innovator's birthday -- he would have been 96 -- Google came up with a clever interactive homepage doodle. For today only you can go to the page and create guitar sounds by moving your mouse across the doodle's strings.  Here's a recorded sample:

Once you're on the page, just hit the record buttom and make your own music.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In Boz we trust

It barely made Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, logging in at No. 494.  Yet Boz Scaggs' self-titled 1969 debut (if you don't count the REALLY early and impossible to find Boz) has plenty of fans, and you can include the Sanctuary in this group.

Many of us didn't discover Scaggs until 1976's Silk Degrees, which included the pop hits "Lido Shuffle" and the Grammy winning "Lowdown."  But five albums earlier, recording with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Scaggs provided a glimpse of what would be coming. Duane Allman helped make the sessions memorable with his guitar work on bluesman Fenton Robinson's "Somebody Loan Me a Dime" which by itself is worth the price of the album.

Today being Scaggs' birthday -- happy 67th! -- we thought we'd share a more recent video of the Bozman in fine stage form.  Get a load of those backup singers -- and hoist a tall cold one to the members of today's Birthday Band:

James Darren (1936): Actor, former teen idol
Goodbye Cruel World

Nancy Sinatra (1940): Singer
These Boots Are Made For Walkin,' Suger Town, Somethin' Stupid (w/ Frank) 

Sherman Garnes (1940-1977): Vocals, Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers
Why Do Fools Fall In Love

Chuck Negron (1942): Vocals, Three Dog Night
Joy To The World, Easy to Be Hard, Eli's Coming

Boz Scaggs (1944): Musician, songwriter
Lido Shuffle, Lowdown, Look What You've Done to Me, Georgia, JoJo

Mick Box (1947): Guitar, Uriah Heep
Gypsy, Salisbury, Easy Livin'

Bonnie Tyler (1953):
Total Eclipse Of The Heart

Summer twang

The best country song about summer? Without much thought we'd give the nod to Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochee."  And not just because, like Jackson, we used to live way down yonder near the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. That great Telecaster guitar opening gets your motor running and before you know it you're blowing down a country backroad with the music blasting and your sweetie on the bench seat beside you.

We're not the only ones in the "Chattahoochee" camp. Here's a list of the Top 10 summertime country songs at

1. Chattahoochee, Alan Jackson
2. Summertime, Kenny Chesney
3. Strawberry Wine, Deana Carter
4. Something Like That, Tim McGraw
5. Six-Pack Summer, Phil Vasser
6. Barefoot and Crazy, Jack Ingram
7. Summer's Coming, Clint Black
8. Sunshine and Summertime, Faith Hill
9. Summer Nights, Rascal Flatts
10. Sweet Summer Lovin,' Dolly Parton

Click here to read and hear more about the songs. We're not going to argue with this list, but now that we're looking at it we'd also find room for Jackson's great cover of "Summertime Blues." 

Because most country fans have seen the "Chattahoochee" video we're going here with Jack Ingram's "Barefoot and Crazy," which brings back memories of a show at the Minnesota State Fair too many years ago...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting ready for prime time

It's hard to imagine that the best bands of the British Invasion ever struggled for success or attention, but it was not an easy go for the Rolling Stones or the Beatles back in their pre-BI days.

Listening to an early Stones' recording of "Come On," which was released on this day in 1963, it's easy to hear what Decca Records thought it had by signing the band.  But this was the same company that a year earlier passed on the Beatles (who would later sign with EMI, even after producer George Martin called their music "awful.")

The Stones were raw in 1963 and had no original material, and wouldn't have until after returning from their first American tour in 1964. But they sure knew how to pick their covers: Here are their first five singles released in the U.K. and their top chart positions:

June '63, Come On (Chuck Berry), No. 21
Nov. '63, I Wanna Be Your Man (Lennon-McCartney), No. 12
Feb. '64, Not Fade Away (Buddy Holly), No. 3
June '64, It's All Over Now (Bobby & Shirley Womack), No. 1
Nov. '64, Little Red Rooster (Willie Dixon), No. 1

The Stones wouldn't make a record with original songs on both sides until December 1964, when London released "Heart of Stone/"What a Shame." It wouldn't be long before the Jagger-Richards credit became a juggernaut like Lennon-McCartney.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The summer of Sam

By Al Tays

Count with Al Tays
the things that can be 
learned on Sundays
at the Sanctuary:
Uno, dos, tres quatro...
June 5 is a big day for Mr. Assistant Music Blogger, not only because it falls right between the birthdays of Assistant Music Blogger’s daughter and Mrs. Assistant Music Blogger, but because on this date in 1965, one of my favorite songs reached its high point – No. 2 – on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Yes, I’m talking about “Wooly Bully,” that classic piece of pure-fun nonsense by Domingo “Sam the Sham” Samudio and the Pharoahs. It never got to No. 1, but its 18-week run on the charts earned it the position of No. 1 Record of the Year, not a bad achievement in an era when British Invasion acts were king.

Sam, whose background included being a former student of classical music and a former carny, would have been right at home in today’s music scene, where the visuals are at least as important (sadly, in many cases) as the sound. The story goes that Sam originally wrote the song about the dance the Hully Gully, but his label, Memphis-based Pen, feared legal problems because of another song with a similar title, so he changed it to “Wooly Bully,” which he said was the name of his cat.

I never understood a lot of the lyrics to “Wooly Bully,” (let’s not be L-7’s?), and apparently I wasn’t alone. Radio stations whose programmers didn’t understand them either decided to play it safe and ban the song. Their loss.

So count down with me, amigos – Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro! and sing along with Sam.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Happy trails to James Arness

We checked out a few videos this morning to catch another glimpse of James Arness in his legendary role as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke.  They don't make 'em like that anymore -- good TV westerns and men of true grit like Arness, who might have been acting but who could tell?  He died Friday at age 88.

This tribute to the towering actor was posted on YouTube three years ago. At least one commentor (naturally) had all sorts of problems with the background music, but we think Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is a perfect match for the montage.

Happy trails, Sheriff.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This Tallstrom is no bum

We exist here at the Sanctuary to inspire you, so here you go.

You will recognize soon enough that this is not Strumbum playing "Forever Young."  For one thing, Strumbum does not use a thumb pick. Secondly, his collection of acoustic guitars, while impressive, does not include a Loef.  And when it comes to actually playing the instrument, well, we might as well come clean now.

This is Martin Tallstrom, and we didn't know about him before yesterday. Our bad, because this guy can really play.  He plays so well that if you are prone to banging around on a guitar you might, after watching this exquisite sampling, decide to either a) practice harder or b) quit playing altogether.

We challenge you to be inspired.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

File under M, for midnight

Here's a great clip of the late, great Gil Scott-Heron, who died last week at age 62.  Enjoy the band's sweet music and stick around to hear the poet-singer's set-up for "Is That Jazz" (he comes in at 3:40).

Scott-Heron's music could not easily be compartmentalized. At various times it touched soul, jazz, funk and rap, and was always directed by the spoken word.  He mentions that in recent visits to record stores he was discovering his music "in a category called Miscellaneous. It bothers the hell out of me. The alphabet thing would be all right, it'd be under either 'H' or 'S.' You know they can't get that together either."

"In defiance of all the trends we refer to our music as midnight music. We call it the first minute of a new day, say that we badly need some first day music, say that we badly need some new ideas and some new things for our music..."

We surely do. And Scott-Heron delivered.