Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ronnie Cook: Goo Goo Muck

As a kid, I was a radio junkie. It didn’t matter the format, I listened to most anything that was on the AM, FM, and Shortwave bands. At night, I DXed distant stations from New York, Chicago, Detroit, Fort Wayne, and places in-between. The term DX came from telegraphic shorthand for "distant" and "distance."

I kept up this hobby on an infrequent basis though 1980 and logged medium wave (AM) stations from across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and the Netherlands Antilles. Shortwave listening brought in broadcasts from across the globe. I found many of these on the crowded 31 meter shortwave band. My SW and AM listening distance listening increased exponentially when I moved the old AM/LW/SW radio from the garage into the basement.

The garage was extremely cold in the winter, but winter proved to be the best time to take in long distance stations, as the nights were longer and the cooled ionosphere increased the ability to hear bounced AM stations from far away places. The benefits of the basement were not only heat related; being proactive, my father had run a connection from our television antenna on the roof to basement when he installed it in the late 1950s. It was probably the only time this connection was ever used.

The radio in question was given to me by my future step-father about two months before marrying my mother. Built in 1940 and named the Presidential Model in honor of the election that year, it had one long wave band, two short wave bands, and the medium wave or AM band. The Music Trade Review for July 1940 describes it as follows:
The ten-tube Presidential, Model 110K, embodies full 12-inch, high efficiency, dynamic loudspeaker, magnetic core I-F transformers, shielded power transformer, rubber mounted chassis, push-pull audio system, six station electric tuning, air trimmer condensers, four point tone control, stage of radio frequency amplification, Victrola and television plug-in connections, built-in loop antenna for domestic broadcast reception and special built-in short wave antenna.
See a picture of this radio.

Although my step-father had also lent me his FM radio during the same period, my daytime listening primarily consisted of local AM stations, as most of the Pittsburgh FMs in 1966 were playing “beautiful music,” classical programming, or simulcasting their AM counterparts. I just realized that my eldest daughter's extensive computer experience is very similar to how I took to radio. I had no idea that all of this radio listening was preparing me for a 20-year interesting career in radio, six additional years of producing commercials and radio and television programs for my current employer, and my position as a board member of the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2004.

During most of this preparatory period, I listened to every AM station in the district from one end of the dial with Canonsburg’s 250 watt WARO at 540 (the lowest position on the US AM band) to Carnegie’s WZUM at the other end of the dial at 1590 (then the next to the last frequency on the AM Band).

WARO’s lower frequency allowed its signal to be carried far beyond what one would expect of a 250 watt station. In the 1970s, I remember taking this station’s signal from Pittsburgh to beyond Clarksburg, WV – about 100 miles with very little static.

During the late 70s, I was working for Mortenson Broadcasting’s WEMM in Huntington, WV. In 1978, Mortenson was negotiating a purchase of WARO – which I hoped would come to fruition as I had expressed interest in transferring to WARO if the deal was consummated. It never was because the sale was contingent upon Mortenson continuing the ethnic programming (in Pittsburgh this is Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, and etc.) that was popular in the region. Mortenson has a chain of religious stations and continues to be very successful in this endeavor. When the deal fell through, the company purchased another AM in the Baltimore market.

Sandwiched in between, WARO and WZUM were dozens of stations that I would listen to on occasion. These included the following:
  • Uniontown’s WMBS at 590 AM
  • Greensburg’s WHBJ at 620 AM
  • Pittsburgh’s WPIT at 730 (I believe they ran easy listening during this period).
  • McKeesport’s WEDO (810) and whose tower is located in North Versailles (the only station I could pick up with a crystal radio that I had).
  • Pittsburgh’s R & B WAMO at 860 AM.
  • Pittsburgh’s WWSW at 970 AM.
  • Pittsburgh’s KDKA at 1020 – the first licensed commercial radio station in the US.
  • Pittsburgh’s WEEP at 1080 – the only country station in the area at the time.
  • Pittsburgh’s WTAE at 1250 – adult contemporary.
  • Pittsburgh’s WJAS (and later known as WKTQ – 13Q in the 70s) – adult contemporary and talk in the 60s.
  • McKeesport’s WMCK (and later WIXZ) at 1360 AM.
  • Pittsburgh’s Top-40 KQV at 1410.
  • Braddock’s easy listening WLOA at 1510.
  • Monroeville’s WPSL at 1550.
Of these stations, I primarily listened to KQV and WMCK/WIXZ. To a lesser extent, I also tuned into WTAE, WEDO, KDKA, WWSW, and WJAS on a semi-frequent basis. There were other suburban stations on the dial that I logged; however, I never listened to any of these on a regular basis.

There was no shortage of great radio talent either. Probably the best known air personality of the region was Porky Chedwick, the “Platter Pushing Papa,” who in his heyday gigged on WAMO 860. Over on the Top-40 giant KQV (1410), Chuck Brinkman was one of their better known jocks. Even in the suburbs, the airwaves were blessed to have some of the best talent around. In my home area of McKeesport, Terry Lee hosted shows called “The TL Sound” and “Music for Young Lovers” on WMCK, later renamed as WIXZ. At the dial’s end, Carnegie’s WZUM had one of the legends of AM radio Michael Metrovich – better known as Mad Mike Metro.

WZUM, because its higher frequency and 1,000 watts of power, was a daytimer that’s signal was at time difficult to receive in much of the region. The station also had a connection with the Pittsburgh based National Record Mart chain. For years, NRM's blue bags used in the Pittsburgh market had ads for “WZUM Sweet 16 on the AM Dial.” I wish I had one of these today, as I spent a lot of cash at NRMs all over Pittsburgh, but primarily at the now defunct Eastland Shopping Center in North Versailles.

The connection between Mad Mike and National Record Mart was further secured with the release of numerous albums pressed for the NRM label under the banner of Mad Mike’s Moldies. Mad Mike was among a number of record hop DJs that would go through the cutout bins of National Record Mart and the local 5 and dime record departments to find unusual songs to add to their shows. Some of these translated to local radio hits, and at least in two occasions, Pittsburgh radio influenced national releases of singles.

The first of these was the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky,” which was found by local DJ Bob Livorio and quickly picked up by Mad Mike Metro. The record had generated some regional interest in the Midwest when it was released in 1963, but never garnered any national attention. When Clark Race began playing it on 50,000 watt KDKA, National Record Mart and other retailers were flooded for requests for the single.

With the 45 long out of print and the Shondells disbanded, a local entrepreneur taped the song off the air and pressed a bootlegged version of the tune which sold approximately 80 thousand copies. Eventually, Roulette Records purchased the rights to the recording and used one of the original Snap label 45s as the master for the national release. The rest is history. According to Bob Shannon and John Javna in Behind the Hits, this accidental hit “went from trash to the turntable.” Mad Mike was also responsible for Tommy Jackson of Niles, Michigan coming to Pittsburgh, and with the help of a local band, the Raconteurs, both were rechristened as Tommy James and the Shondells and began a career in music with a string of hits.

Mad Mike’s Moldies were records like “Hanky Panky” that were bargain basement rejects that sometimes created a minor sensation in the Steel City. That brings me to today’s feature – being that it is Halloween, it is fitting that I chose a recording that appeared on Volume 5 of Mad Mike’s Moldies: Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads’ “Goo Goo Muck.” The Cramps later covered this tune in 1981.

It is also fitting that I feature a Mad Mike tune today, as on October 31, 2000, Mad Mike Metrovich went to that great control room in the sky. It was said that Halloween was his favorite holiday and he died of a heart attack a few hours after doing his annual Halloween show. Mike had only returned to WZUM in July 2000 after a 28 year hiatus from the station. He left “Sweet 16” when it changed to an album rock format in 1972 and worked at a variety of stations in the area until 2000.

Michael J. Metrovich, November 6, 1936 – October 31, 2000 – Rest in Peace.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jimmy Cross: I Want My Baby Back

As we move towards Halloween, our Fun Friday’s selection is the 1965 semi-hit by Jimmy Cross, “I Want My Baby Back.”

Recorded by radio show producer Jimmy Cross, this record was a campy parody on the teenage death laments of the late 50s and early 60s. The more infamous recordings of this morbid genre were “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning, “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson, “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson, “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean, and “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las.

Who would have thought that a song about necrophilia would have charted in the Hot 100 – but this composition by Perry Botkin, Jr. and Gil Garfield barely made it – peaking at 92 in February 1965.

“Baby, I dig you” . . . have a Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blue Öyster Cult: Godzilla

It’s TV Thursday and our Halloween feature today comes from Blue Öyster Cult and their tune immortalizing the classic B movie character "Godzilla." This song was recently featured in a commercial for Auto Trader and qualifies for our inclusion as a Thursday feature.

Here’s the Auto Trader commercial:

Godzilla was one of those creature features often to get played on Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater. In fact you might see the original (and best version) “Godzilla “and countless sequels such as, “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” “Godzilla vs. Mothra,” “Destroy all Monsters,” and “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.”

Hosted by Bill Cardille from 1963 to 1983, Chiller Theater was a Pittsburgh staple that aired a double feature every Saturday night at 11:30 on channel 11 (WIIC/WPXI). Chilly Billy Cardilli (as he was called) provided light hearted skits during commercial breaks. His campy humor and grade B horror films kept Pittsburghers amused for 20 years.

To get a sense of the antics of the host and his show, the following clips are from the 1991 Chiller Theater Reunion Show (in six parts).

In addition to his 20 year stint with Chiller Theater, Bill also hosted Studio Wrestling, was a Channel 11 weatherman, and appeared on numerous other TV and radio shows.  Securing his place in the pantheon of horror flix, George Romero hired Bill to play the role of the newscaster in both versions of his “Night of the Living Dead.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baskery: Haunt You

Continuing with the Halloween theme, today’s song is from a group that I discovered purely by accident last week. The band Baskery consists of three Swedish sisters (Greta, Stella, and Sunniva Bondesson) who play a variety of styles of music ranging from rockabilly, punk, and country. For a three piece outfit, they generate quite a bit of sound. Today’s feature is a song entitled “Haunt You.”

The comments below are for a video that YouTube pulled. I've replaced the video with one recorded from television. Hopefully, the original video will return and the notes below will make sense.

Recorded live at Celtic Connections in January 2009, this band is far from being Celtic. Sunniva, the youngest sister, plays what appears to be a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, sings lead, and, as her introduction states, she handles the “screaming’ and shoutin’.”

Stella, the middle sister, covers the low end of the spectrum with double bass, or as Sunniva calls it a ”doghouse” bass and harmony vocals. Finally, older sister Greta sings harmony and plays a six-string banjo (slide style) while playing bass drum and snare (using drum pedals). If you close your eyes, you would swear that there is an extra guitar playing as well; however, it is just the multitalented Greta simultaneously playing lead and accompaniment.

Stella, Sunniva (on a Del Vecchio resonator guitar), & Greta

Don’t kill me, cause you need me.
Oh, don’t you kill me, kill me, cause you need me.
And If you kill me, kill me, you’re gonna miss me, yeah you’ll miss me, boy.
And If you kill me, kill me, make sure you bury me deeper.
Cause now I’ll follow you and track you down, I’ll haunt, haunt, haunt, ha-ha-ha-haunt you.

Don’t hurt me, you hurt me.
Oh, don’t you hurt me, cause you hurt me
And if you hurt me, you’ll regret it doll
And if you hurt me now, hey boy you better beware.
Cause I’ll follow you and track you down, I’ll haunt, haunt, haunt, ha-ha-ha-haunt you.

And I will ha-ha-ha- ha-ha-ha- ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haunt you.
‘Til you fall.

Don’t you trick me, cause you trick me.
Oh oh, don’t you trick me; trick me no, cause you trick me
And if you trick me, you’re an unlucky dog
And if you trick me boy, oh then you better be good.
Cause I’ll follow you and track you down, I’ll haunt, haunt, haunt, ha-ha-ha-haunt you.

And I will ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haunt you.
‘Til you fall.
And I will ha—ha—ha—ha-ha-ha-haunt you.
And I will ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haunt you.
‘Til you fall.
‘Til you fall.
One, two, three, four.

Baskery identifies itself as a live band and, to recapture that sound in the studio, they built a stage and recorded everything live with no overdubs. See the accompanying video for more about the recording of their debut LP. “Fall Among Thieves.”

Baskery is not for everyone; however, their high energy performance is worth a listen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Donovan: Season of the Witch

Well today’s traditional song is going to be a real stretch as it is not really a traditional tune at all; however, with that said, Donovan in his autobiography, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” makes claims that he invented Celtic Rock and was one of the earliest proponents of electric folk. Donovan said he predated Bob Dylan’s use of an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival by five months. Since Donovan started out as a folk singer, I’ll use this 1966 recording as today’s Halloween based song. Crawdaddy’s review of Donovan's “Sunshine Superman” album stated that “Season of the Witch” was the most powerful single track on the LP.”

While the song is not promoting witchcraft or the occult, it is a song that explains paranoia with the paranormal. The protagonist is looking out his window and over his shoulder and sees things that are “so strange” that the only explanation is that these oddities are occurring because of witchcraft; therefore, “Oh no, must be the season of the witch.” The addition of the words, “Oh no” indicates that the season of the witch is not a welcome occurrence.

Billboard’s review of an October 25, 1968 New York concert stated, “His ‘Season of the Witch.’ In which all his (Donovan’s) skills are on display, is already a folk-rock standard recorded by many groups.” Other artists who have recorded it includes Julie Driscoll; Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills on Super Session; Richard Thompson; Terry Reid, and Lou Rawls to name a few.

I first heard this song on a Vanilla Fudge album where they do it in a minor key variation. Hmm, I just realized I mentioned Vanilla Fudge two days in a row – that’s uncanny. Vanilla Fudge also changed the lyrics of the song from “beatniks are out to make it rich” to “hippies are out to make it rich.”

Another version I like is a recent concert recording by the Strangelings, which features electric sitar and three part female harmony.

As Halloween approaches and you look out your window, beware as it may be the “Season of the Witch.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble: Superstition

Well, I am back from nearly a week’s hiatus working on a certification in Chicago and am ready to resume my blog entries on music. Because Halloween comes this Saturday, I thought I would create a theme along those lines and work it into my daily features.

Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays as usually meant getting a huge haul of candy. In the 1960s, Arlington Plan of North Versailles and nearby East McKeesport, Pennsylvania (my haunts) were known for the residents' generosity and an overwhelming abundance of "treats," lest those who did not give were "tricked." The tricks were called "tic-tacs" or being "tic-tacced." I am not sure of the etymological derivation of the term, but I recently heard a person from Pittsburgh area still speak of being "tic-tacced."

It was generally the older boys who pulled the worst pranks, such as soaping windows and the like - most of us played more harmless pranks in the days following Halloween, such as ringing a person's doorbell and running and hiding. The extension of these doorbell pranks were telephone pranks that, because of caller ID, are now obsolete. Since there was an abundance of "treats," rarely was there ever a reason for "tricks" to be played. Ah yes, the smell of pumpkin pie, the chill of the air, and the large Mars candy bars that were common in the days before the food industry began to use smaller packaging.

For today's Halloween feature, may I haunt you with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1972 hit “Superstition.” There are several respectable covers to Stevie’s song that hold up fairly well in comparison. Initially, I was going to choose the earliest cover of the song, which was recorded by Beck, Bogert, and Appice in 1973. This version teamed awesome British guitarist Jeff Beck with the rhythm section from Vanilla Fudge. While having its merits, it is a little heavy for a Monday – so I decided to pass on Jeff Beck and company. As an aside, Beck’s later performances of the song featured a talk-box, which was made famous by Peter Frampton on his "Frampton Comes Alive" album.

There is also the version by the Jonas Brothers. Although, it's a fairly decent rendition, I cannot see myself featuring the Jonas Brothers on this blog. Preferring, ahem, more mature musicians, I decided to feature Stevie Ray Vaughan’s recording that is accompanied by a very amusing video. You must continue watching the video even after the music ends for the surprise.

Stevie Ray Vaughan burst on the music scene in 1983 when he was given the opportunity to play lead guitar on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” album. At the same time Bowie’s largest selling LP was receiving airplay, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s debut album, recorded at Jackson Browne’s studio, was being released on Epic Records. Producer John Hammond signed Stevie Ray to the CBS label.

Vaughan was in good company, as Mr. Hammond is credited with discovering Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Sprinsteen, and a host of others. In 1983, Guitar Player named Vaughan as “Best New Talent” and “Best Electric Blues Guitarist.” Additionally, GP named his debut LP as the “Best Guitar Album.” By 1984, Vaughan was the National Blues Awards’ “Entertainer of the Year” and “Instrumentalist of the Year.”

While "SRV" had an illustrious career, it was tragically cut short on August 27, 1990 when a helicopter in which he was a passenger crashed in East Troy, Wisconsin killing all five on board. The rock and blues world lost a guitar genius when Stevie passed; however, a bigger tragedy would have been never having the opportunity to hear his overwhelming talent in the first place. Rest in peace – rock on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Silly Wizard: The Queen Of All Argyll

Every Tuesday I feature a traditional song or a contemporary tune written and/or performed like a traditional song. Today‘s feature, “The Queen of all Argyll,” was penned by Andy M. Stewart and was first recorded by his band Silly Wizard in 1983.

Since Silly Wizard introduced “The Queen of all Argyll,” numerous other artists have covered this same tune. In my estimation, not one of the covers measures up to Andy’s performance as lead singer in Silly Wizard. On a personal note, I first heard the song from a cassette of “The Best of Silly Wizard” that I received as a gift in 1988 – the same year they disbanded.

Silly Wizard was one of the better known Scottish traditional bands and was known to exhibit considerable energy in concert. The band also utilized numerous varied instruments in performance and on their recordings. Although not the winner, Silly Wizard was nominated the best Scottish Folk Band Award in 2003.

Gentlemen it is my duty
To inform you of one beauty
Though I'd ask of you a favor
Not to seek her for a while
Though I own she is a creature
Of character and feature
No words can paint the picture
Of the Queen of all Argyll

And if you could have seen her there
Boys, if you had just been there
The swan was in her movements
And the morning in her smile
All the roses in the garden
They bow and ask her pardon
For not one could match the beauty
Of the Queen of all Argyll

On the evening that I mentioned
I passed with light intention
Through a part of our dear country
Known for beauty and for style
In the place of noble thinkers
Of scholars and great drinkers
But above them all for splendor
Shone the Queen of all Argyll

So my lads I needs must leave you
My intentions no' to grieve you
Nor indeed would I deceive you
Oh I'll see you in a while
I must find some way to gain her
To court her and attain her
I fear my heart's in danger
From the Queen of all Argyll

Monday, October 19, 2009

Joan Osborne: What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted?

Another Monday and another cover tune. This time it is Joan Osborne with “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?”

My friend and colleague Vanessa Thompson sent this to me the other day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better cover of this Jimmy Ruffin hit from 1966. Ruffin scored a top-ten record in the US and the UK with song charting at 7 and 8 respectively.

The song was originally intended for the Spinners, but Ruffin requested that he be given a shot at the song. It ended up being the best known recording by Jimmy who was also brother of Temptations’ lead vocalist, David Ruffin.

Joan’s version comes from the documentary that chronicles the work of Motown’s session musicians known as the Funk Brothers. Released in 2002, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” also features the Louisville area native singing the Martha and the Vandellas’ classic “Heatwave.”

Like I did, enjoy this one. Thanks Vanessa.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hillsongs United: Lead Me To The Cross

It’s Spiritual Sunday and today I feature Hillsongs United’s “Lead me to the Cross.”

Since I sing in church several times a year on a rotating basis, I am always looking for newer material to do and try not to repeat songs unless I absolutely have to do this. Back in May while searching for new material (new to me) to perform, I reacquainted myself with Hillsongs United’s “Lead me to the Cross.” I really liked this arrangement and began working on it to sing it with a couple of friends.

Hillsongs United is a music ministry of the Australian mega-church Hillsong Church in Sydney. Hillsong is affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination and has had a very successful music ministry that has extended far beyond the reach of their localized ministry. The membership of this band is fluid and changes frequently. Brooke Fraser Ligertwood, who wrote this song, sings lead.

Brooke Fraser Ligertwood talks about “Lead me to the Cross”:

Originally, I had conceived that I would play acoustic guitar and have one of my friends (Keith Janney) play bass and another (Jon Schwitzerlette) play keyboards. The song was written in Bm – which was a little low for me so I transposed the tune to Em to fit my vocal range. It actually made it somewhat easier to play as well. While I was on my way to Washington, DC in July, I heard a new version of this song on the radio by Chris and Conrad. Their version was really similar to the one I had planned to do – a little faster and a little higher (their version is in Ebm).

Chris & Conrad “Lead me to the Cross” Studio Version:

Chris & Conrad “Lead me to the Cross” Live Version at Chick-Fil-A:

When we eventually get to do this song, I have decided that Jon would play  acoustic guitar and I would do piano as I really liked the piano part on Chris and Conrad’s version and it helped to make up for the missing lead guitar part, as Keith who normally plays lead guitar would be playing bass. Plus, I can MIDI a lead guitar sound to my keyboard controller to get the desired effect.

While I am featuring Hillsongs United in this entry as they did it first, this is really a feature of this great song and how it is treated with two different arrangements.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Little River Band: It's A Long Way There

Late posting today as my Friday and Saturday schedule are out of kilter since I stayed in Charleston, WV last night in preparation for doing a pledge drive on West Virginia Public Radio this morning from 7-10 AM. The pledge drive went well, but I was tired all day and I am finally getting to where I am going – that is doing my blog entry for today. Today’s hit was by the first Australian band to break the American charts and the string of hits started with the 1976 American release of “It’s a Long Way There.”

Here is the full studio version:

Here is a live version from 1976:

This song creates a string of memories that extend back to the first part of 1977. In February of that year, I purchased my first new car – a 1977 Chevy Vega hatchback. One of the conditions of the new car was it had to have an FM radio. I learned a lot about autos with this car. First of all, I experienced the sales techniques of reciprocity and scarcity.

The reciprocity idea (I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back) was seen in that GM was giving purchasers a whopping rebate of $200 on the purchase of a new Vega. The rebate of $200 doesn’t seem quite worth it now, but in 1977 the list price on a Vega was $4495. Scarcity was illustrated in the fact that this rebate was only offered for a limited time. Not only that, but Chevy had extended their warranty from 50,000 miles to 60,000 miles on the power train.

Being a senior in college with two part-time jobs and no credit history, my prospect for getting a loan from anyone without a cosigner was slim to none; however, I took my chances and drove to Don Hall Chevrolet in Ashland, KY and began to check out the prospects of a new Vega. I should have been clued into future problems when my trade in of a 1970 Plymouth Satellite was accepted for nearly what I had paid for it three years earlier.

The salesman, Dave (whose last name escapes me), was slick. He made me believe he was doing me a favor because all he required was a list of personal references and the need for a cosigner would be waived. He also sold me on additional repair insurance which could be used during the car’s first year. This was worthless, as it never paid any of the claims that I had submitted.

I can remember that first evening – taking the car out on Kentucky highways 1 & 7.  I was cruising at the top recommended break-in speed of 50 mph. Listening to the FM radio, I realized that the static filled days of AM were gone; however, that never stopped me from tuning into a distant AM station on occasion. The very next day, I heard on the news that Chevy had decided to immediately stop production on the Vega due to the problems the cars had with their aluminum block engines.

I had personal experience with the Vega’s numerous issues when I had to replace engine #1 in the fall of ’77 after amassing 20,000 miles. Engine #2 went out in December 1978 at about 48,000, and engine #3 started having serious issues at 72,000 miles in November 1980. Oh yeah, the transmission died at 64,000 miles and I replaced it myself as it was then out of warranty. I sold the car for parts ($200) when I left Ashland in February 1981 (sans the radio) – which I used for three subsequent vehicles.

While the car was a piece of trash, I got excellent mileage out of the FM radio – which really is the connection to today’s song, “It’s a Long Way There” by the Little River Band. Shortly after buying the Vega – I discovered WVAF in Charleston, WV. This station in the Kanawha Valley had recently switched from a religious format to Album Oriented Rock. WVAF’s programming was stellar. While I had some problems picking up their signal in Grayson, KY where I was living at the time, they boomed into Huntington and I could carry the signal most of the way to Grayson. For someone weaned on the nation’s first AOR station (KQV-FM/WDVE Pittsburgh), WVAF quickly became my favorite radio station.

One of the highlights of the station was their on-air talent. One of these I remember in particular was the afternoon jock, Karl Mack. Mack also hosted a jazz show called “Just Jazz” on Sunday evenings that I caught on my way back from church in Boone County, WV every Sunday night. Karl was one of my radio heroes. Back at the college, I attempted to emulate his style. While we didn’t play AOR, I had been hosting a jazz show every Wednesday night and used what I learned from Karl Mack’s show for mine.

It was on his afternoon show that I first heard the LP version of the Little River Band’s first hit, “It’s a Long Way There.” The arrangement with strings set the stage for this tune and the harmonies were reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. WVAF introduced me to a number of songs that I wasn’t hearing anywhere else.

I will confess that while I was working at WEMM in Huntington, I was also listening to WVAF when I could. One night in 1978, I won a pair of concert tickets to see Cheap Trick and AC/DC at the Huntington Civic Center. WEMM had a Charleston phone line and it made it possible for me to be a winner. A friend of mine from South Point, OH joined me for this concert – although I was really hoping I could get his sister to go with me instead.

In either 1979 or 1980, WVAF changed format from AOR to a Top-40 format. Later the station softened its sound further to Adult Contemporary. This was the end of AOR in Charleston until country WKLC in St. Albans changed format to AOR in the early 80s. WVAF’s format change was accompanied by a new moniker of V100. Although the call letters have remained constant, so has the V100 brand.

Karl Mack, who’s real name is “Butch” McClung, was out of work with the change in format. We eventually worked together at WOAY-FM and Butch is active doing production occasionally for Southern Communications in Beckley. One interesting story about Butch is that, as a adolescent, he built his own AM transmitter and regularly broadcast illegally on the AM band.  He promoted his station by posting a sign advertising his contrived call letters in the front yard of  his family's home on US 60. An FCC inspector seeing the sign and not recognizing the call letters for the region, stopped and ordered the young man to cease and desist – which he did. Butch later turned his efforts toward amateur radio and has had a varied career in radio working in Cincinnati, Charleston, Mt. Hope, Oak Hill, Summersville, and Beckley.

Thanks to Butch and WVAF for introducing me to the Little River Band.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ray Stevens: I Need Your Help Barry Manilow

Well, it’s another a Fun Friday and I reach back to 1979 with a classic Ray Stevens’ tune, “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow.”

I remember the first time I heard this song, I was working part-time at the original WAMX in Ashland, KY and the record had just been released. One of the full time jocks, I think it was Randy Berry (AKA Bobby Rich), played this on the air while I was in the control room getting ready for a rare weekday shift. I was at the station filling in for one of the full-time jocks who was out sick.

Randy Berry (AKA Bobby Rich) - then WHTN PD & Ernie G. Anderson - overnights at WGNT
February 1981 - at a going away party when I left Huntington for WCIR in Beckley

Immediately, it had me rolling in the floor of the control room and I thought it was one of the best bits Stevens had ever done. There were two parts of the song that I loved. The first was the recitation towards the end where Ray strings all of those Manilow song titles together into a coherent dialog.

"Hello, Mandy? It's me. I'm here at the Copa.
You know, the Copacabana.
I know I don't write the songs that make the whole world sing but
I do know one thing, Mandy...
I can't smile without you... Forget Lola...
Remember that weekend in New England? I thought then that
This could be the magic at last... Now here I am...
Tryin' to get the feelin' again!"

My second favorite part of this parody was the unexpected and unlikely rhyme of with the word “lucky” – “yucky” in the final chorus.

I don’t remember the song getting much airtime on WAMX other than some sporadic play – I don’t think it was ever in regular rotation. Apparently, this was the rule rather than the exception with most stations with a Contemporary Hit Radio format as it only charted at 49 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Ray’s take on Manilow was better received on Adult Contemporary radio, where it peaked at #11.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Orleans: Still The One

It’s TV Thursdays – let's straighten up the rabbit ears and pull a song that had exposure via television air waves. Today’s number was blasting over radio and television four years running. What was it? (I know the answer is above, but pretend you didn't see it).

Hint one: it was released in 1976 and peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

No, the hit was not “Undercover Angel” by Alan O’Day.

Hint two: It was covered by a country artist in 1977 and also had moderate success in that musical genre.

No, the country cover hit was not “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” by the Kendalls.

Hint three: its lyric’s were used as a major television network promotional theme from 1977 to 1979.

No, the slogan wasn’t: “New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I’ll buy me a football team” as used by ESPN.

Hint four: it was written by a husband and wife writing team – well, maybe you don’t know that one.

No, it wasn’t written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Hint five: one of the coauthors is currently a congressman from New York.

No, it wasn’t cowritten by Charlie Rangel – although, he might be a talented songwriter – who knows?

Hint six: the song has been used by three presidential candidates – one candidate’s usage in the 2008 campaign specifically angered the previously mentioned congressman.

No, it wasn’t John Edwards' use of “Torn Between Two Lovers.”

Drum roll, puuuuleeeze . . . the winning number is “Still the One” by Orleans.




In 1977, Whispering Bill Anderson took his cover of “Still the One” to #11 on the country charts. Beginning that same year, ABC-TV successfully used the song for their promotional theme for the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons, which, by the way, made mucho dinero for husband and wife (now ex) writing team of John and Johanna Hall. ABC (the same company whose record label dropped Orleans several years earlier) was now incorporating many versions of the song into their weekly promotional announcements.  The versions ran the gamut of the sublime to the ridiculous - with everything from Orleans mimics to slow, elevator music versions.

Coauthor John Hall is currently a two-term Democratic congressman serving the 19th New York Congressional district.

In addition to Hall's political connections, "Still the One" has been used by the George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain campaigns. Hall requested that Bush stop using the theme in 2004 and he immediately complied. Hillary Clinton had not sought permission for its usage in 2008, but John Hall, a Clinton supporter, gave tacit approval for its use. The McCain/Palin camp used it in 2008 and Hall requested they stop; however, McCain’s campaign manager basically ignored this request.

Unless this was used for commercial purposes rather than being played at town hall events, I doubt if Hall could have legally limited its usage. That is unless he was willing to challenge this in court. BMI licenses this song and other music for public performance. Commercial use or synchronizing the music to video would require specific permissions. As long as the hall where the song was played had a current BMI license, its usage in these facilities would have been covered and it is doubtful it could be banned from being played.


According to Orlean’s lead vocalist Larry Hoppen, the song was inspired by a divorced friend of the Halls' who complained about the vast number of “break-up” songs that had been recorded. She suggested that someone needed to write a song about couples’ staying together. The Halls took this inspiration and in very short order concocted “Still the One.”

In 2006, BMI (Broadcast Music International) certified that “Still the One” and “Dance with Me,” Orleans’ 1975 hit, had garnered a combined six million plays. Quite a testimony for two great songs by a band who recorded for more record labels than Mr. Carter had liver pills.*

*Orleans recorded for ABC Records, Asylum Records, Infinity Records, MCA Records, Pony Canyon Records, GWE/Major Label, Pioneer Records, Dinosaur Entertainment, Rhino Records, Sony/BMG, and Forever Records.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coldplay: God Put A Smile Upon Your Face

I’ve been featuring numerous older songs recently; however, Wednesday gives me the opportunity to return to the 21st century with a 2003 release by Coldplay, “God Put A Smile upon your Face.” I have found a nostalgic connection to alternative rock that often reminds me of recordings from previous decades – but with a fresh, new, and sparse sound.

If there were an alternative only radio station in my area, I would be tuned to it constantly. Unfortunately, I don’t have XM radio and I generally forget that our cable system offers an alternative channel – which is quite good when I remember to switch to it.

The arrangement of “God Put a Smile upon your Face” builds then suspends, and this makes it interesting. The song starts with an acoustic guitar and moves into a faster tempo joined by the lead guitar, drums, and bass. The song builds nicely and then returns to the ballad treatment from the beginning. I hope you like it, as I certainly do.

Where do we go nobody knows?
I’ve got to say I’m on my way down
God give me style and give me grace
God put a smile upon my face

Where do we go to draw the line?
I’ve got to say I wasted all your time, honey, honey
Where do I go to fall from grace?
God put a smile upon your face

And ah
When you work it out I’m worse than you
When you work it out I wanted to
And ah
When you work out where to draw the line
Your guess is as good as mine

Where do we go nobody knows?
Don’t ever say you’re on your way down when
God gave you style and gave you grace
God put a smile upon your face

And ah
When you work it out I’m worse than you
When you work it out I wanted to
And ah
When you work out where to draw the line
Your guess is as good as mine
It’s as good as mine
It’s as good as mine
It’s as good as mine
As good as mine
As good as mine
As good as mine
As good as mine

Where do we go nobody knows?
Don’t even say you’re on your way down when
God gave you style and gave you grace
God put a smile upon your face.

The critics generally praised this release from Coldplay's second LP "A Rush of Blood to the Head." The song also ranked within Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Songs of All Time" at 473. Unfortunately, “God Put a Smile upon your Face” was doomed chart wise in the US & the UK, as EMI only issued promotional copies of the single to radio.

In other countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of Europe, commercial singles were released to the general public. These countries generally produced higher chart positions for the tune. One example is Latvia where it peaked at #14. Got to love the Latvians, but I’m not sure a top 15 release in one of the Baltic states carries that much weight. That is unless there was an equally well showing in neighboring Estonia and Lithuania.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blue Cheer: Summertime Blues

This is an extra entry into the blogosphere, as I just got word that Dickie Peterson, bassist and lead vocalist, of Blue Cheer died in Germany on Monday, October 12, 2009. Peterson, 61, succumbed after contracting an infection following surgery to treat his liver cancer.

While the band had a cult following, they did break into the American charts in 1968 with their debut single, a cover of Eddie Cochran's “Summertime Blues” at #14 and album, "Vincebus Eruptum" at #11. Formed as a sextet in San Francisco, the band trimmed its membership to a power trio after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience live. They were the antithesis of the San Francisco sound of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and other bands which were thriving in the turbulent times of the late 60s.

Studio Version

Live Version

In the 1970s, Blue Cheer was awarded the distinction by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the loudest band in the world. In 1976, they were displaced by The Who – a group that also released “Summertime Blues” as single, albeit two years after Blue Cheer’s release.

Reportedly, Blue Cheer was the first American band to adopt Marshall Amplifiers that added to the high decibel levels during their concerts. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that a dog brought by his owners to a live outdoor show died of sonic exposure once the band began to play. We may never know if this story is true, partially true, or totally fiction.

Having never seen Blue Cheer live, I cannot testify to their noise levels; however, their recordings were all very heavy and certainly I can see where this was a great possibility. Of the many bands I have seen live, I will have to say A Flock of Seagulls 1982 show at Kings Island in Cincinnati was the loudest and most painful experience I've ever had at a concert - I can only imagine what Blue Cheer was like. I guess, I'll never know.

Rest in Peace, Dickie Peterson (1948-2009).

Allison Krauss & the Chieftains: Molly Bán

Renown for her work as a bluegrass artist with Union Station, Allison Krauss has also crossed the musical spectrum in teaming up with the likes of Robert Plant, Sting, James Taylor, John Waite, and others. She shows a variety of influences in these sometimes unlikely pairings, but it works. In this Traditional Tuesday’s selection, she teams up with the Chieftains for this traditional Irish lament.

While I personally like a majority of Allison Krauss’ music, I am probably not her biggest fan due to her frequent overuse of vibrato while singing. This is the same quality that caused me not to be overly thrilled by the Bee Gees singing style as well. In my book, a little vibrato goes a long way, and I feel that her vibrato often distracts from her exact pitch and pure soprano tone.

With that said, her delivery must be someone’s cup of tea as she has won 26 Grammys and a host of other awards – the like of which no one else can compare. So despite my almost un-American disapproval of her style, the masses love her and I am inclined to believe that I must be in the minority with my views. In today’s selection, “Molly Bán,” her vibrato, while present, is not distracting and she really shines on this tragic love story from Donegal.

The story is of a young hunter who accidentally kills his love interest by mistaking her for a swan. I can’t help but wonder why the heck he was hunting swans in first place. Be that as it may, this song can be traced back to 1799 and, according to Jennifer J. O’Connor (1986), there are 88 distinct versions of this ballad that exist. O’Connor’s article in the Canadian Journal for Traditional Music suggests that because of the presence of certain elements in this tune there is the likelihood that it was based on an actual event. While I won’t get into the details, her tome is available online for your perusal. The argument does make sense and it is not unusual for a ballad to have some truth as a basis.

Added to her lovely voice is the haunting sound of Paddy Moloney’s expertise on the Uilleann (pronounced ill-in; rhymes with chillin’) pipes. Unlike Scottish Highland pipes and Irish war pipes that require the player to blow air into the bag, Uilleann pipes (named for the Irish Gaelic word for elbow) are played by pumping air into the bag by wearing bellows under the player’s right arm. The chanter’s construction also can provide the ability to play notes in a staccato fashion, which lends itself to many Irish tunes.


O'Conner, J. J. (1986). The Irish origins and variations of the ballad "Molly Brown." The Canadian Journal of Traditional Music. Available online at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nilsen, Lind, Holm, & Fuentes: Hallelujah

Every Monday, I feature covers of songs that were recorded and made famous by others. Today's song is by Norwegian artists Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Askil Holm, and Alejandro Fuentes and is a cover of "Hallelujah," which is best known by the late Jeff Buckley.

I found this version last fall completely by accident. At first listen, I was duly impressed by the harmony created by these four singers. In order of appearance, the performers include the following:
  • Espen Lind (who is playing guitar and sings the first verse) was awarded the Norwegian Artist of the Year for 2009;
  • Askil Holm who sings the first half of verse two;
  • Alejandro Fuentes, a displaced Chilean who finished third in the third season of Norwegian Idol, sings the second half of verse two;
  • Kurt Nilsen, singer of the final verse, won both first place in the initial season of Norwegian Idol and first place on World Idol in 2004. 

I find this song very interesting as the lyrics on the surface seem hopeful with the refrain "Hallelujah" throughout, but it is really a very dark song – especially when you read all of the verses most people don’t sing. Written by Canadian Leonard Cohen, this song has been recorded an estimated 200+ times including three releases (one studio and two live) by Cohen.

My main problem with the song is the confusion of the biblical stories of David and Samson, which may have been intentional or accidental – I lean towards the latter.

This is far from a religious song; however, as mentioned earlier, it does contain biblical and Judeo-Christian references. So I would imagine that there are some who believe it to be religious – but probably this is the same crowd that thinks “One Toke over the Line” by Brewer and Shipley is religious as well because the song frequently references “Sweet Jesus.” When I worked for WEMM in Huntington, WV, we had an album by a gospel group from Hurricane, WV that actually included "One Toke over the Line." Go figure.

Despite some of its lyrical problems, this Leonard Cohen song is simply beautiful – although I wouldn’t recommend any gospel musicians to record it. Of the hundreds of versions, there are six that can be credited as having a major influence:
  • Cohen’s original, which charted in the UK in 2008 at 36;
  • John Cale’s version (the first cover of the song and whose lyrical editing most other covers follow);
  • Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover, which Rolling Stone listed as one of the top 500 songs of all time as well as being an international hit;
  • Rufus Wainwright’s version for the movie Shrek;
  • Alexadra Burke’s #1 hit in the UK and Ireland in 2008
  • Lind, Nilsen, Fuentes, & Holm – the first version to chart within the top 40 anywhere – charting in Norway at #1 in 2007.
Besides the Nilsen, Lind, Holm, and Fuentes version, I am including Jeff Buckley's version as it is the granddaddy of the covers.  It posthumously charted in 2008 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs (1) in the US, in the UK (2), in France (2), in Sweden (3), in Norway (7), and in Finland (9). This really is the best version of the song and the one most people have heard.

As previously stated, Alexandra Burke’s version charted in the UK and Ireland at #1.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mr. Mister: Kyrie

It’s Spiritual Sunday and for my pick of songs it is the 1986 hit by Mr. Mister, “Kyrie.” I know, I can already hear the critics saying what on earth is spiritual about Mr. Mister? Some legitimately may ask this question because of their lack of experience in a religious tradition that utilizes the vocal response "Kyrie eleison" used in prayers.

When it was released, my friends from the Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions recognized the nature of the lyrics of this song; however, others from groups that do not use this response hadn’t a clue. Although not coming from one the aforementioned traditions, three years of college Greek was a plus, as I immediately connected "Kyrie" with the Greek noun κύριος – which is translated in English as Lord.

 Mr. Mister, Charleston, WV 1987.  Left to right: Jim Owston, Steve George, 
Steve Farris, Ed Neal, Robert Tipane, Richard Page, and Pat Mastelotto.

The line "Kyrie eleison" (Κύριε ἐλέησον) – "Kyrie" is in the vocative case (the case to identify someone) and literally is “O Lord.” The verb "eleison" (for those that need or care to know is a second person singular aorist active imperative of ἐλεέω) is literally translated “You show mercy" or "You be merciful.”  While the aorist tense normally shows past activities, when coupled with imperative mood/mode it is something that is accomplished in the present or future.  While imperative mood/mode is usually thought as a command, it can also be used when one is begging or beseeching someone. 

"Kyrie eleison" is used in religious circles as “Lord have mercy” – which is a prayer for the Lord to show His mercy or compassion upon us. It is the only remaining Greek found within the Latin liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church today.

The idea of Mr. Mister’s hit was that whatever we do, wherever we go, we need the Lord’s mercy.

The wind blows hard against this mountainside
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

My heart is old it holds my memories
My body burns a gemlike flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself again

Kyrie Eleison Down the road that I must travel

Kyrie Eleison Through the darkness of the night

Kyrie Eleison Where I'm going will you follow

Kyrie Eleison On a highway in the light

When I was young I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be

Richard Page, lead singer and bassist, explains the origin of this song’s idea and his hesitance to record a song with overt religious overtones. By the way, it was their biggest hit peaking at #1 for two weeks on Billboard’s hot 100.

Mr. Mister was not the only artist to write a song with this title; Mozart did one as well for his "Requiem". Here’s a four part version of Mozart’s "Kyrie eleison" on guitar.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Celtic Mashup

Anything goes on Saturday and I spent the entire evening last night constructing a mashup of traditional inspired music -- mostly Celtic in origin; however, Loreena McKennitt’s “All Souls Night” is an original tune and I believe “A Maid that’s deep in Love” is of English origin. The process required me to put four songs together into one medley of tunes or a mashup. The songs are as follows in order of appearance.
  • Loreena McKennitt – “All Souls Night”
  • The Corrs – “Lough Erin Shore”
  • Pentangle – “A Maid that’s deep in Love”
  • Haley Westenra – “She Moved through the Fair”

I discovered Haley Westenra’s wonderful version of “She Moved through the Fair” when I featured the Sinéad O’Conner’s version a few weeks ago. Since my wife wouldn’t listen to O'Connor's version, I decided to use another and I liked the instrumentation found in Haley Westenra’s video. It wasn’t until after I recorded the mashup that I noticed that the video was something that another You Tube contributor produced and it wasn’t a commercial video. Oh well, it was nicely done and I am not going to redo this mashup.

Finally, since the “A Maid that’s deep in Love” had no video other than static photos, I used a video track from another Pentangle song “House Carpenter” to give the illusion that Jacqui McShee was actually singing. I didn’t try to get this perfect, as I just wanted to do at least one mashup – and after 10 hours, I got this out of my system.

A couple of events inspired me to do this. When I discovered the Corrs’ version of “Lough Erin Shore,” I recognized that it was very similar to Pentangle’s version of “A Maid that’s deep in Love.” I was familiar with that song from the LP "Cruel Sister," the only Pentangle album that I own. With the similarities, I began contemplating the possibility of combining the two songs. The second inspiration was a mashup by a gentleman named Peter Bull but goes by the name of Norwegian Recycling. His video “How Six Songs Collide” was the second inspiration.

Here’s Norwegian Recycling’s “How Six Songs Collide.”

To make this video, I used’s video converter, Sony Vegas Video, and Sony Sound Forge. When stringing the songs together, I needed unified theme and this was the frequent use of the rebec and hurdy-gurdy from “All Souls Night.” There were some problems with the Ask converter, as several of the videos had dropouts and it would not let me re-record these particular videos – so I improvised by editing some of these.

Here are the original videos I used.

Loreena McKennitt – “All Souls Night”

The Corrs – “Lough Erin Shore”

Pentangle – “A Maid that’s deep in Love”

Haley Westenra – “She Moved through the Fair”

Pentangle - "House Carpenter"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Junior Brown: My Wife Thinks You're Dead

It’s Fun Friday and today we cross the tracks to the country side of the spectrum with Junior Brown’s 1995 recording of “My Wife Thinks You're Dead.” This song peaked at 68 on Billboard's Country charts. 

I first heard Jamieson “Junior” Brown on West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage a number of years ago. One of the first things that attracted me to Brown’s music was his unique voice coupled with his humorous lyrics. But you don’t have to listen to very much of Brown’s music to realize that he is a talented guitarist and lap steel guitarist.

Live Version

The instrument that Brown plays is a custom built axe of his own design. The Guitsteel is a double neck instrument that looks like fraternal conjoined twins. Brown thought, “there are double neck guitars and double neck steels, what about a double neck with one of each.” The guitar rests on a stand to make changing between instruments easier. The steel slide fits into a pocket in the upper guitar neck. He is a master of both and that is evident immediately.

Regarding the video, the ex-girlfriend is played by Gwendolyn Gillingham-McIlvaine who measures at 6’7”. It adds to the comedic effect of the song when she stands next the much shorter Brown. The wife in the video is played Brown's actual wife, Tanya Rae Brown, who also supplies the rhythm guitar for his band.

While Brown is branded as a country artist and called the “Hillbilly Hendrix,” his musical influences go beyond the cowboy hat. The following cut represents Browns acumen in sounding exactly like the late Jimi Hendrix.

Here’s Junior Brown doing “Foxy Lady.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Deep Purple: Hush

It’s TV Thursday and today’s number is a song featured on a recent Jaguar commercial: “Hush,” the maiden single by Deep Purple (and we ain’t talkin’ about Nino Tempo and April Stevens either).

The Jaguar commercial:

The US issue of the album (T-102) was the second album and the single (1503) was third single release for the independent Tetragrammaton label that was partially owned by Bill Cosby.

The song hush was written by Joe South (“Games People Play”) with Billy Joe Royal in mind. Royal released it as a single in the US, but his version peaked on the Billboard’s Hot 100 at 52 in 1967. Deep Purple’s 1968 arrangement, while similar to Joe South’s demo recording of the song, only charted in North America where it placed at #4 in the US and #2 in Canada.

The recording features Deep Purple’s original lineup that included vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper – both of whom were fired after the release of the band’s self titled third album.

Hammond B3 Organ

Unlike later recordings by Deep Purple that prominently featured the guitar of Ritchie Blackmore, “Hush” and others from this period concentrated on keyboardist Jon Lord’s organ playing. His instrument of choice was the classic Hammond B3 organ.

The Hammond sound is unique and was created using 96 rotating tone wheels that recreate the sound of a pipe organ. The organ had drawbars that could be set to add a certain amount of tone mimicking pipe organ pipes in various lengths. These included 16 foot, 8 foot, 4 foot, 2 foot, 1 foot with the 8 foot setting being the fundamental sound. In addition three drawbars added a fifth note in various octaves with the 5 1/3 foot, 2 2/3 foot, and 1 1/3 foot settings. One additional draw bar (1 3/5 foot) added a major third that was two octaves above the fundamental.

The adjustment of the drawbars created unique timbres and when combined what was termed as percussion that added a “plink” to the attack and a key click which was caused by the closing of the key contacts on the organ. Add to all of that the Leslie rotating speaker with produced a Doppler effect that changed the pitch of the notes being played. Finally, organists learned that this mechanical organ’s tone wheels could produce a pitch bend when the musician, while depressing the keys, shut the organ off and then back on while playing.

Made until 1974, the Hammond B3 organs produced a distinctive sound and these instruments were used on thousands of recordings during the period. Jon Lord’s playing shows that an organist can also use a percussive attack and glissando to add effects to songs without having to be exact when playing. You can hear this in “Hush” as well as other Rock organ pieces from the period. See if you can pick out the various sounds in Jon Lord’s playing on “Hush.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sutherland Brothers & Quiver: Arms of Mary

Something got me thinking of this song the other day and I am not sure why – perhaps I was mourning over my misspent youth. When this song came out, I was not quite 21 – a senior in college and not really sure what I would be doing the next 30 odd years. In 1976, I never could have predicted the direction my life turned. Oh yeah, back to the song.

The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver were actually two groups that merged to create the sextet they had at the peak of membership. The two groups you ask? Uh, the Sutherland Brothers merged with Quiver. Lasting only through the decade of the 70s – SBQ was doomed by not having a large following in the US. Due to the lack of airplay, I doubt if one American in a hundred could name this song in connection with the band’s name or vice-versa.

Hit or not, there was something about Iain Sutherland’s vocals that made me love this song. Every time my friends and I would go to the local Pizza Hut across from campus, “Arms of Mary” was one of the tunes I would select from the jukebox – sometimes playing it twice because it was so short. It’s strange, but I never bought this single or even the album, “Reach for the Sky” when they were originally released. I do, however, own a copy of this song from a compilation series that CBS Records issued in the early 1980s that featured singles from the UK.

While it was a colossal hit “across the pond” where it peaked at #5, it didn’t do as well here in the States. “Arms of Mary” only charted at 81 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and performed a little better on Cashbox’s Top Singles at 71. This was a record that should have been a hit, but for some unknown reason it didn’t generate that much attention in the US. Whether it was poor promotion on the part of Columbia Records or just bad timing for the American release of the song, it is hard to say.

I can only remember hearing this song on one radio station during the fall of 76 and that was WKEE (AM 80 / FM 100.5) in Huntington, WV. KEE generally played records earlier than its competitors, so you tended to hear a greater variety of top 40 than you did from WKAZ in Charleston, WV and stations elsewhere. I am not certain if its nearest format challenger, WAMX in Ashland, KY, ever played the tune. If they did (and I expect they eventually did), it certainly wasn’t in the list of approved oldies when I worked there as a part-timer from 1978 to 1980.

When I moved to Beckley, WV to work for WCIR in 1981, I discovered that they too had played the single and it generated some moderate interest. Like KEE, CIR in those days had a very liberal format and the station had a reputation for creating hit records.

To my knowledge, the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver only had two songs ever to receive only a modicum of airplay on US radio. Although “Arms of Mary” was their biggest hit internationally, their 1972 release “(I Don’t Want to Love You But) You Got Me Anyway” charted higher in the US at #48 on Billboard’s Top 100. I like that one as well and have it on the same compilation series from CBS. Since I remember this song from when it was released, it must have received some airplay in the Pittsburgh market (where I lived until August 1973).

Here's SBQ's 1972 semi-hit, “(I Don’t Want to Love You But) You Got Me Anyway”:

As an aside, there is a question about the "Arms of Mary" video, “Is it live or is it Memorex?’ Well, it’s Memorex, although the vocals might have been done live as Iain Sutherland appears to perfectly aligned with his own voice (often difficult to do, but not impossible). I am, however, leaning towards lip sync on this one. The rest (if not all of the audio) is pre-recorded and there are some tell-tale signs of this.

First, there are missing instruments (acoustic guitar, flute, and keyboards) among the band members that are present on this recording. Second (and a little harder to spot), unlike the microphones, the guitars and bass are not plugged into amps (or anything else). If you check out some of the poorer quality videos of live performances of the this song, you will see the band mates playing through Orange brand amplifiers connected to the instruments by a quarter inch guitar cord. Third, there is no variation from the arrangement on the single. Most bands will do a song live slightly different than the recorded version for a variety of reasons. This one is exact.

With that said, the audio is cleaner than the actual live versions one finds on You Tube and much more interesting to watch than a static picture or someone’s 45 spinning on the turntable. For those of you born 1978 or later, that big thing as a prop behind the band is a reel-to-reel tape deck. Nice touch.

Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing this song on oldies radio any time soon. Tightly formatted oldies stations only seem to play the major hits from the past in rotation – nothing as insignificant as a song charting at 81. This is a shame, but it is the kind of world in which we live in that has created one size fits all restaurants (i.e., McDonalds), stores (i.e., Wal-Mart), and even radio (i.e., most every commercial station).

As a testimony of how this song has struck a chord with others besides me, note the number of legitimate cover versions of “Arms of Mary” that exist. I counted at least 13, which included a disco version – quite different I might say. A song of marginal interest would have never generated this much popularity. SBQ – two thumbs up in my book.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Steelye Span: All Around My Hat

It’s Traditional Tuesdays, and since I’ve been featuring a number of Irish tunes, I thought I would sail across the Irish Sea and back two centuries for a bit of English folk from the 19th century. Like many folk tunes, there are several variations that exist. Steelye Span’s version from 1975, however, is the only one to chart – peaking at #5 on the British pop charts. It was the band’s only gold single.

The song tells of the absence of a true love with the protagonist vowing to morn this loss by wearing a green willow in her hatband for twelve months and a day – a traditional period of mourning. In the Steelye Span version, the band actually interpolates another traditional song, “Farewell He,” into the lyrics of “All Around My Hat” to create a dialogue between the characters.

Steelye Span was formed by bassist Ashley “Tyger” Hutchings when he felt that Fairport Convention was moving away from traditional to more original music. Hutchings last LP with Fairport was their greatest seller, “Liege and Leif.” By the time that Steelye Span recorded “All Around My Hat,” Hutchings had long moved onto other projects. Although Hutchings organized the band, the best known member has been its female vocalist, Maddy Prior.

Prior began her singing career with Tim Hart in 1966 and both became founding members of Steeleye Span in 1969. Maddy stayed with Steeleye Span until 1996 and later rejoined the group in 2002. Besides the 25 albums released with Steeleye Span, Maddy has appeared on 34 additional albums both as a solo artist and as part of various ensembles. In 2001, Prior was awarded the Member of the British Empire medal by Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to folk music.

My personal collection includes three Steeleye Span albums, 1971's "Please to See the King," 1977's "Storm Force Ten," and the 1977 compilation, "The Steeleye Span Story: Original Masters." "All Around My Hat" can be found on this compilation as well as on the 1975 album of the same name. As an aside, Maddy Prior also rerecorded “All Around My Hat” as a special guest on Status Quo’s 1996 cover of the song.

By the way, the name Steeleye Span has no connection to Steely Dan, as I am frequently asked by other Americans who are unfamiliar with this British folk-rock act. Steelye Span predates Steely Dan by a few years and their name is based on a mythical character in the song "Horkstow Grange" named John Span, whose nickname was "Steeleye."

Steely Dan's name comes from a mythical character of another sort. There is no connection between the two; however, I have worked up an instrumental on mandolin and bouzouki that is something of Steeleye Span meets Steely Dan. The tune starts off with a reel that I composed, but have yet to title, that is joined in a medley with "Reelin' in the Years." I use the mando and zook to mimic the two guitar parts on the Steely Dan classic. One of these days, I'll post a recorded version of it.