Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chess Records: Spoonful

Our final look at Chess Records takes us back to a cut by one of the premier bluesmen from the 20th century – Howlin’ Wolf – although sometimes he is identified on records as “Howling Wolf.” Born as Chester Burnett, the Wolf was larger than life – a big man with a big voice and a big personality to match. His six foot three, 300 pound frame was not to be reckoned with by anyone.

If you’ve seen “Cadillac Records,” you’ll recall Howlin’ Wolf (played by Eammon Walker) basically putting Leonard Chess in his place. Chess backed down. Whether the encounter was historically accurate or not, it certainly could be imagined as actually happening.

One of his non-charting singles – in fact most, if not all of his singles, failed to chart – was the blues classic “Spoonful.” Penned by bassist and Chess employee Willie Dixon, “Spoonful” is a Chicago blues standard and became better known to a wider audience when Cream recorded it for the UK version of their debut album “Fresh Cream.” It did not appear on the US version of “Fresh Cream” being replaced by the single “I Feel Free,” which was absent from the UK issue. It was, however, issued as a single by ATCO in the US. But, I digress.

Howlin’ Wolf recorded it first in 1960 and provides the inspiration for most rock interpretations of the song.

Howlin’ Wolf’s rendition wasn’t, however, the only version by a Chess artist. In 1961, Etta James and Harvey Fuqua did more of an R&B take on the song. Not as sparse as Howlin’ Wolf’s interpretation, Etta and Harvey’s duet features a full orchestra conducted by Riley Hampton who also wrote the arrangement.

Different than Howlin’ Wolf’s original, Etta and Harvey’s version includes a key change and an alteration of the lyrical content as well as the chordal structure of the tune. While Howlin’ Wolf’s version is centered on one chord, Etta and Harvey’s version includes a number of chord changes. At the chagrin of most blues aficionados, the second Chess release did better on the charts. It peaked at #78 on the Hot 100 and at #12 on the R&B charts.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Chess Records: To Love, To Love

One of the biggest hits for the Chess Records label was Billy Stewart’s unique take on George Gershwin’s “Summertime” in 1966. The Single peaked at #10 on the pop charts as well as at #7 on the R&B charts. In fitting with our typical Friday Flipside’s theme, we present the “B” side of that single “To Love, to Love.”

Although missing his scat technique used on the “A” side and other recordings, “To Love, to Love” is a typical example of a Stewart ballad. Although he had been performing since he was 12 years old, Bo Diddley is credited with discovering Stewart and helped the young singer get a contract with Chess Records.

“To Love, to Love” was a collaboration of three men named Billy: Stewart the artist, Nichols the writer, and Davis the producer. In addition to its release year of 1966, the single was sequentially numbered as 1966 as well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chess Records: Many Rivers To Cross

Although Jimmy Cliff wrote and recorded his magnum opus “Many Rivers to Cross” in 1969, his version failed to make a dent in the US and UK charts; however, today, his rendition is the one for which most people are familiar. Within a year of Cliff’s release, James Milton Campbell (AKA Little Milton) recorded probably one of the first covers of the tune.

Little Milton came to the stable of Chess recording artists first as an independent record label owner of Bobbin Records which was distributed by Chess subsidiary Checker Records. He later translated back as an artist for Checker where he released a number of singles including his version of “Many Rivers to Cross.”

This recording is perfect for a Thursday Repeats and Threepeats selection, as Little Milton’s version of this song was reissued as a single in 1976. The occasion was the release of All Platinum Records’ Chess Blues Master Series. Not only was this series a shot in the arm for the label, it brought back a number of Chess artists to public light in the mid 1970s.

Besides Little Milton, the series included Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lowell Fulson, J.B. Lenoir, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Jimmy Rogers. Each album had a unique cover by the same artist and they really make a nice collection. Unfortunately being a starving college student, I had to wait until the albums were cut out and I only got three of the series – one being Little Milton’s collection.

More of a soul and R&B artist rather than a strict bluesman, I found Little Milton’s inclusion in the series a refreshing alternative. I was not familiar with Milton’s recordings before this as he had limited Top 40 airplay. Only two other artists had greater success with the song than Little Milton and Jimmy Cliff: Nilsson recorded the tune in 1974 and his version peaked at #109 and Annie Lennox charted at #80 in 2008.

Although many others have recorded the “Many Rivers to Cross,” I prefer Little Milton’s soulful rendition of this classic. Incidentally neither issue of Milton's recording charted.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Chess Records: Love For Christmas

Because the soul group the Gems only produced regional hits for Chess Records, they are often overlooked in the history of the genre. One notable aspect of the Gems is that their lead singer was Minnie Riperton. Riperton later rose to fame in 1975 with the #1 hit single “Lovin’ You.” At the time she joined the all-girl group, Riperton served as the receptionist at Chess.

Written by producer Billy Davis, “Love for Christmas” was released for Christmas 1964, and like the band’s other singles, it failed to gain any national recognition. Arranger Phil Wright borrowed generously from the Motown sound for this single. I particularly like the tubular bells used throughout the song, but featured prominently during its intro.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chess Records: Run Rudolph Run

Although Chess Records had a number of Christmas themed songs, the best known holiday classic on the label was by Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run.” Released in November 1958, the single peaked that Christmas season at #69.

The interesting aspect of this song was that the writing credits were listed as C. Berry Music and M. Brodie. In this case, C. Berry Music was a pseudonym for Johnny Marks, who along with Marvin Brodie, penned the tune.

Marks’ name was probably eliminated so that R&B radio would play the tune. Marks is known for writing a number of Christmas classics that included “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “I Hear the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and dozens of others.

In addition, the Chess releases listed the publisher of the song as its own in-house publishing concern: Arc Music, BMI; however, the song was actually administered by St. Nicholas Music, ASCAP – the company owned by Johnny Marks.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chess Records: Going Home

Unlike Muddy Waters’ sparse recordings of the 40s and 50s, Chess Records teamed Mr. Morganfield with a full band that contained electric guitar, amplified harmonica, piano, bass, drums, organ, saxophone, and back-up vocalists. The instrumentation and arrangement makes this 1962 recording a real gem.

By just listening to Muddy Waters’ canon of recordings from this period, you get a sense of the recording genius of the Chess brothers. They were far ahead of the competition and it is no wonder that The Rolling Stones travelled all the way from the UK just to record at 2120 South Michigan Avenue.

“Going Home,” which was later titled “Goin’ Home” for his 2002 CD “Goin’ Home: Live in Paris 1970,” is the epitome of a great slow Chicago blues number that showcases one of the founding fathers of the genre. In addition, the harmonica accompaniment and tenor sax solos are absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chess Records: Diggin' My Potatoes

It’s the fourth week of the month and this week we’ll feature selected cuts from Chicago’s Chess Records. As the successor to the Windy City’s Aristocrat Records, Chess was formed in 1950 by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess. The label became America’s premier blues and rhythm and blues outlet and featured artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Gene Ammons, Memphis Slim, Etta James, and many more.

In 1969, the Chess brothers sold the label to the GRT Corporation and it eventually served as a subsidiary of Janus Records – our last month’s feature. In 1975, All Platinum Records purchased Chess and had some limited releases of old material that were issued with the help of Leonard Chess’ son Marshall; he had previously run the label as its president in 1969 after it was purchased by GRT.

When All Platinum ran into financial difficulties, the masters were sold to MCA in the mid 1980s. MCA, now Universal Music Corporation, continues to hold the masters and periodically reissues old Chess material.

Not only did Chess record numerous artists out of its location at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, they also produced recordings for Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service. Phillips’ Sun Records would later become famous for recording Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins.

When Chicago’s Premier Records declared bankruptcy in 1953, Chess purchased the masters and released these songs on the Chess imprint. One of these recordings was by Washboard Sam who was backed by Big Bill Broonzy on guitar. Although not a Chess recording, “Diggin’ my Potatoes” was a 1953 Chess release.

Sam, whose real name was Robert Brown, has previously recorded for the Bluebird and Vocalion labels prior to moving to Premier which would be released on Chess. A later compilation of his material was issued by Folkways. Washboard Sam died of heart disease in 1966.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Piano Guys: Carol Of The Bells

One of my favorite Christmas tunes is “Carol of the Bells”; this week, I stumbled upon a unique version of the tune that also incorporates the English carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.” Produced by The Piano Guys, here’s a rendition arranged and performed with 12 ‘cello tracks.

“Carol of the Bells” was based on a pre-Christian, traditional, winter folk chant from Ukraine. Originally intended to be an a cappella presentation for a four voiced choir, the “Carol of the Bells” did not reach western ears until 1921 when the Ukrainian National Chorus toured Europe and the Americas. Its first recording in its present sense as a Christmas song came with the Robert Shaw Choral’s rendition of the song in 1946.

The video shows the principal ‘cellist on this arrangement: Steven Sharp Nelson. The song appears on The Piano Guys’ 2013 release of “A Family Christmas.” The CD peaked this season on the Top 200 Albums chart at #20 and on the Classical Albums chart at #23.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Seymour Swine & The Squeelers: Blue Christmas

Back in 1985, I spied an unusual single at one of the local record stores in Beckley, WV. Without hearing it, I was intrigued and so I bought it. I am glad that I did, as it became a Christmas staple of my radio show for nine years. While I am not much on novelty records, this is my favorite holiday novelty tune – Seymour Swine and the Squeelers with their rendition of “Blue Christmas.”

Until recently, I thought this was a one man effort and it sounded as though it was recorded in someone’s living room with one other person “laughing all the way.” Seymour Swine was Denny Brownlee who was also armed with a kazoo. The Squeelers comprised only one person – Bill Lynn on acoustic guitar. Seymour Swine’s vocals are instantly reminiscent of Porky Pig.

There are no identifying marks on this record to tie it to a real artist or label – perchance to avoid litigation with Warner Brothers or Mel Blanc or both. But now you know the culprits. You can't miss this single - the label is piggy pink adorned with pigs dancing around a Christmas tree. A Christmas wreath surrounds the center hole.

When I played this version of “Blue Christmas” on the air, it always generated numerous requests for more plays. I have included it as our Friday Flipside, as both sides of the record are identical.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The O'Jays: Christmas Ain't Christmas

For our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats, we provide a song that was issued five separate times: The O’Jays’ “Christmas Ain’t Christmas New Years Ain’t New Years Without the One You Love.” Like many Christmas songs, it failed to chart during any its five releases. Written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, this holiday classic by The O’Jays was issued on three separate labels owned by composition/production duo.

In 1969, the single appeared on Neptune Records #20 paired with “There's Someone (Waiting Back Home)” on N-20. During the following year, it appeared on Neptune N-33 backed with “Just Can't Get Enough.”

By 1973, the same configuration appeared on Philadelphia International Records #ZS7 3537. This was repeated on Philadelphia International #ZS8 3581 in 1975 and in 1980 on TSOP Records as #ZS8 3771.

In 1975, Philadelphia International was rebranded as TSOP. This was largely due to the success of the #1 instrumental hit TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) by MFSB in 1974. In addition, Philadelphia International was involved in a payola scheme in 1975, so rebranding also helped distance the label from its legal troubles.

Produced by Gamble and Huff, “Christmas Ain’t Christmas” was arranged by veteran Philadelphia musician Thom Bell. It is an example of the Philly Sound made popular by Gamble and Huff’s stable of artists.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Steve & Ruth Smith: I Wonder As I Wander

In 1933, musicologist John Jacob Niles was visiting Western North Carolina collecting American folk songs. Near Murphy, he came upon a group of Evangelicals who had been evicted from the local town. A young girl captured his attention by singing a fragment of a song. She repeated it seven times in order to earn a quarter. Her name was Annie Morgan, and although she was disheveled and her tattered clothes were filthy, Niles was mesmerized by her impromptu performance.

Niles took the fragment of lyrics and a rudimentary melody and wrote the Christmas song “I Wonder as I Wander.” While it has been sung thousands of times by numerous artists, I found this wonderful instrumental of the song by Steve and Ruth Smith from near Boone, NC.

As you will discover, the sparse instrumentation of guitar and hammered dulcimer is far more rewarding than a full orchestra. Ruth Smith shines on the dulcimer while Steve accompanies on the acoustic guitar. The duo has been performing for 35 years and has received numerous accolades. While this is a live performance of “I Wonder as I Wander,” the duo released it on their Christmas CD, “An Appalachian Winter,” in 2009.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Refab Four: You Can't Do That

Our final “Refab Four” song was released in August 1967 by Harry Nilsson and was a unique cover of a Beatles’ flipside – “You Can’t Do That.” While it appeared as the B-Side to The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the original also was featured in the motion picture “A Hard Day’s Night.” Nilsson’s take on the song incorporated the lyrics of over a dozen different Beatles’ tunes that weave through and around the lyrics of “You Can’t Do That.”

Although this single release from Nilsson’s second album, “Pandemonium Shadow Show,” was a #10 hit in Canada, it stalled on the American charts at #122. Upon hearing portions of the album in Canada, The Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor ordered a case of albums to give to others in the music business including the Fab Four.

The result caused John Lennon and Paul McCartney to announce that Nilsson was their favorite American artist. In addition, John Lennon developed a long lasting relationship with Harry Nilsson. Billy J. Kramer, another Liverpudlian managed by Brian Epstein, also recorded Nilsson’s “1941” that appeared on “Pandemonium Shadow Show.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Refab Four: I Wanna Be Your Man

It’s pretty difficult to call today’s song a “Refab Four” number as The Rolling Stones recorded and released this Lennon and McCartney composition before the Fab Four. The story is told that the John Lennon and Paul McCartney finished writing “I Wanna Be Your Man” in the presence of The Rolling Stones while they were in the studio. Lennon and McCartney gave the tune to The Stones because they were seeking new material for a single release.

Upon hearing it, Mick and the boys decided to model their number after Elmore James’ style. Brian Jones played some rudimentary slide guitar parts as well as contributing background vocals. Issued in November 1963 as the band’s second UK single, “I Wanna Be Your Man” charted at #12 in Britain. In the US, it was issued as a flip side of their first American single “Not Fade Away.”

Within weeks of The Stones’ release, The Beatles’ issued their second UK LP “With the Beatles” that included “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The corresponding album in the US, “Meet the Beatles,” also included this tune that featured Ringo Starr on lead vocals and George Martin on Hammond organ.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Refab Four: Michelle

Most Americans are probably not familiar with The Overlanders; however, they had a very successful cover of The Beatles’ “Michelle” in 1966. Originally a folk group, The Overlanders crossed over to popular music. Although they issued a number of singles in the UK and the US, “Michelle” was their only hit.

Although “Michelle” failed to chart in the US, it was a number one hit in the UK. In addition, another competing cover by David and Jonathan was overtaken by The Overlanders. David and Jonathan’s version was also a hit at #11.

Although I was unaware of The Overlanders’ brief stab at fame in 1966, I purchased the UK single on the Pye label at a neighbor’s yard sale in the late 1960s. The US version, issued on Hickory, is fairly rare and is a difficult find for collectors. The lack of success in the US market can be attributed to radio playing the original Beatles’ recording as an album cut from “Rubber Soul.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Refab Four: Oh! Darling

Béla Fleck can get more out of a banjo than most musicians can get from, er, more nobler instruments. Just ask Gary Larsen of “The Far Side” fame, as the banjo and accordion were often fodder as maligned musical instruments of torture for his own brand of humor.

Today’s selection comes from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ 1996 release “Live Art.” The recordings were culled from the band’s performances over a five year period and often feature very special guest artists. The Flecktones’ treatment of The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” is no exception.

On this number, Fleck plays an electric banjo and is joined by Flecktones: Victor Wooten on bass and Future Man on synth drumitar. Former Flecktone, Howard Levy, is on keyboards while special guest John Cowan honors us with his presence on vocals. Cowan and Fleck both were members of New Grass Revival.

This jazzed tinged version ranks up there as one of the better if not the best cover of this classic Beatles’ track from “Abbey Road.” While they all shine on this number, Cowan’s vocals are the proverbial icing on the cake.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Refab Four: Any Time At All

Day three of my “Refab Four” series and I look at a Lennon and McCartney composition that appeared originally on the US Beatles’ LP “Something New.” In the UK, “Any Time at All” was released on “A Hard Day’s Night.” The original was primarily composed by John Lennon and it is structurally very similar to a later composition of his – “It Won’t Be Long.” The instrumental bridge was composed by Paul McCartney. Lyrics were intended for this section of the song; however, they never materialized.

For today’s version, I turn to one of my favorite lesser known artists: Nils Lofgren. I had a chance to see this shorter acrobat of the electric guitar with Bruce Springsteen in 1986. I don’t know how he tumbled across stage while playing guitar without killing himself or breaking his instrument. His 5’3” frame allows him to perform stunts unmanageable to those of us with a different center of gravity.

Lofgren’s take on “Any Time At All” came from his 1981 album “Night Fades Away.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Refab Four: We Can Work It Out

This week’s second example of what I term as the “Refab Four” comes from Stevie Wonder’s 1970 “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered” album. It was a little gutsy for Motown to release a cover of a number one Beatles’ hit just six years after the original. Gutsy, but smart, as Wonder’s version was a Top 15 hit on the pop charts – peaking at #13. It also was an R&B hit charting at #3.

Wonder’s version contains two characteristics of his hits of this era: a clavinet and a chromatic harmonica. The clavinet sounds as though it has a bit of overdrive on it, as it is distorted. Wonder’s version of this Beatles’ classic is different enough to be quite interesting.

Strangely enough, I don’t remember hearing this one when it debuted and only discovered it recently. Radio in 1971 was still more individualized and it was not unusual to hit and miss certain songs which were charting elsewhere and to hear songs that no one heard as they were local hits.

If you would like to know more about this song, see my post from last year at

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Refab Four: If I Needed Someone

Well, it’s the second week of December and today we begin a week-long series devoted to others doing Beatles’ songs – I term the subject matter as being “Refab Four.” I considered using the moniker Beatlesque, but that term is far more reaching of a topic than simply recording a Beatles’ tune. Beatlesque can be defined as other bands whose sound was based on the Fab Four’s musical style.

“If I Needed Someone” was one of my favorite George Harrison’s songs with The Beatles. Issued on the UK version of “Rubber Soul” in 1965, it did not hit the American shores until 1966 when the US LP “Yesterday . . . and Today” was released. The main guitar lick was influenced by The Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney.” Prior to the release of the album, Harrison sent Roger (then known as Jim) McGuinn a copy of the song with an acknowledgement concerning McGuinn’s influence on the tune.

Turnabout is fair play and Roger McGuinn recorded his own version of “If I Needed Someone” in 2004. It was the opening track on his CD “Limited Edition.” Good stuff from the master of the electric 12-string guitar.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Viscounts: Harlem Nocturne

Back in May, I mentioned that only a handful of songs made the hair to stand up on the back of my neck. One of these was the haunting version of “Harlem Nocturne” by the instrumental rock ‘n roll band The Viscounts. It has particular significance in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s “Christine,” as it plays during the first time you see the ‘57 Plymouth named “Christine” supernaturally rebuild herself.

Written in 1939 by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers, The Viscounts took the tune to the Hot 100 chart in 1959. Unfortunately, it only made it to the #52 slot when it was originally issued on the small private Madison Records label.

Seven years later, Amy Records re-released the single for a modicum of success. Barely scratching the surface of the Top 40 in 1966, “Harlem Nocturne” peaked at the #39 position.

Starting with Joe Spievak playing fifths on his bass guitar, the key to “Harlem Nocturne’s” eerie sound is actually the slow speed amp tremolo used on Bobby Spievak’s guitar. To add to the effect, Spievak strummed the guitar backwards at the beginning of the piece and occasionally during other parts of “Harlem Nocturne.”

Following a crescendo on Clark Smith’s crash cymbal, the song’s mystique is punctuated by Harry Haller’s gritty tenor sax. Listen closely and you might be able to hear Larry Vecchio on organ deep in the mix; however, I haven’t been able to confirm it is present as of yet. Good stuff from The Viscounts, but I must retire to comb the hair on the back of my neck.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

John Lennon: Crippled Inside

Ah, yes it’s another Wooden Music Wednesday and we travel back in time to 1971 with John Lennon’s magnum opus – the album “Imagine.” Even though the lyrics are a bit dismal, when I hear the album cut “Crippled Inside,” I just have to smile. It just has a happy jug band type sound. Although not issued as a single, it garnered some album rock airplay.

The song features Lennon on electric guitar and vocals and he is joined by a trio of acoustic guitars courtesy of Ted Turner (no, not that one), Rod Linton, and John Tout. Nicky Hopkins who has played with everybody, but most notably The Rolling Stones, provides the ragtime piano treatment.

Jim Keltner, who was in several super groups, is behind the drum kit.  In addition, the song is worthy of two stand-up bassists – Steve Brendell and Beatle friend Klaus Voorman. Not only was Voorman an accomplished bassist, he had previously designed the cover of The Beatles “Revolver” album. Finally, George Harrison plays a bell brass Dobro® on the song’s first solo. “One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Doors: L.A. Woman

It’s an Atypical Tuesday and our unusually packaged album is The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” – the band’s last LP recorded with singer Jim Morrison before his untimely death in 1971. When released, the original version of the album had a die cut cover that had curved corners and a cut out window.

In the window, a monochromatic photo of the band appeared on a clear sheet of plastic. An inner sleeve gave the impression that the image was printed on the yellow insert. The design, however, had some flaws. When stored with other albums, the album next to front cover often got caught in the die cut window. This eventually took its toll on the cover by damaging the window’s outside frame.

Not only did the album sport a unique cover, it also took the Doors back to a blues influenced sound. The album charted at #9 and was lowest charting of The Doors’ six Top Ten albums; however, it was their second best selling album behind the band’s debut album. “L.A. Women” is certified as double platinum for the sale of two million copies.

With the exception of some keyboard overdubs, the album was recorded live in the studio – which necessitated the addition of two session players: Jerry Scheff on bass and Marc Benno on rhythm guitar. The album’s two best known cuts, “Riders on the Storm” and “Love Her Madly,” were both issued as singles and charted at #14 and #11 respectfully.

Many of “L.A. Woman’s” cuts also received additional album radio play and these included the title cut, “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” “Crawling King Snake,” and today’s featured song “Cars Hiss By My Window.”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cracker: Happy Birthday To Me

This is my fifth birthday post (certainly not my fifth birthday) since starting this blog in 2009. I was running out of ideas for this year until I remembered Cracker’s recording from 1992: “Happy Birthday to Me.” The song was written by vocalist David Lowery who had previously been with Camper Van Beethoven. “Happy Birthday to Me” charted for two weeks at the #13 slot on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The cut is found on Cracker’s self-titled debut album; however, at the time the album was recorded, the group consisted of only three members Lowery (who also played guitar), guitarist Johnny Hickman, and bassist Davey Faragher. For the album, session drummers were. Since I don’t have the CD, I cannot tell you who played the great accordion on this cut.

All I have to say is “Happy Birthday to Me.”

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Janus Records: Cheer

Our final look at Janus Records takes us back to spring 1972 where the band Potliquor nearly had a hit from their album “Levee Blues” that was released the previous December. This Southern rock band never had the success of its contemporaries, and perhaps their label choice may have played a part in that dilemma. If the band had been on Capricorn or on one of the majors, I believe they may have had a shot – but unfortunately, that didn’t happen until 1979 when their final album was released on Capitol. By then, it was too late.

The closest Potliquor came to renown was the release of the single “Cheer.” It did get some action and I remember hearing it on the radio; however, it stalled at the #65 position on the Hot 100 for two consecutive weeks never to rise from its ashes as did the legendary phoenix.

Although not a memorable hit, Les Wallace’s lead guitar really wails and the entire song is punctuated by a fantastic horn section. Keyboardist George Ratzlaff wrote the song and sang lead on what is probably their best known single. While Potliquor released four albums between 1970 and 1979, they are relegated to the back lot of rock ‘n roll along with others who were eclipsed by more famous acts of their time.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Janus Records: Midnight Sun

Guitarist Harvey Mandel played with one of the classic versions of the blues band Canned Heat and even auditioned as Mick Taylor’s replacement for The Rolling Stones. While it was Ron Wood who was selected to fill the guitarist’s role, Mandel was able to contribute his talents to two cuts on their “Black and Blue” album. Neither his work with Canned Heat nor his short term with The Stones contributed to my initial knowledge of Mandel’s talents; I became familiar with his work on John Mayall’s “Back to the Roots” album from 1971.

I bought “Back to the Roots” as a cutout in late 1972 and for a number of years it was one of my favorite albums. In 1973, I was scouring the cutout singles at F.W. Woolworth in the Eastland Shopping Center and I picked up a single on Janus Records with a familiar name – Harvey Mandel. Being that I knew him from John Mayall’s band, I took a chance on buying it.

The “A” side was “Baby Batter” – the title cut to his fourth solo album. Released in 1970, “Baby Batter” was an instrumental as was its flip, “Midnight Sun,” and all of the other cuts on the album. I preferred the single’s “B” side, and at 6:15 it was a long cut for a single. Neither side charted. In Billboard’s review of the album, they announced that “This LP is very strongly jazz oriented, but the jazz structures break down (or perhaps build upon) progressive rock concepts with musical touches of blues and rock.” Whatever the heck that means.

By April ’71, Billboard reported that the album was breaking in Pittsburgh and perhaps that is the reason that the local stores were carrying the single. The album was re-released twice. Initially, it was rebranded as “Electric Progress” and later it was reissued with the original title with a new cover.

Although Mandel’s first stint with Canned Heat only lasted a year, he rejoined the group from 1996 through 1999 and again beginning in 2008 and continuing as the band’s guitarist through the present. “Midnight Sun” fulfils double duty today – it’s part of our Fourth Week Label Feature and our Friday Flipside all rolled into one.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Janus Records: Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)

Since we are in the midst of our Fourth Week Special that features recordings on the Janus Record label, I could not find a song dealing with thankfulness to be appropriate with the American Thanksgiving holiday. Although there were several songs released by Janus that fit this theme, none are available on YouTube. With that quandary, I’ve decided to revert to our typical Thursday Repeats and Threepeats special.

In 1966, Donovan’s “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” was released on the Hickory label in the US. A product of Pye Records in Britain, the label didn’t have an American outlet and Pye contracted initially with Hickory and later Epic Records to release the early Donovan recordings.

By 1969, Pye had invested in Janus Records and the label became their de facto American arm. When the contract with Hickory expired in 1970, the Hickory recordings reverted to Janus and the new label re-released several of the Hickory singles and a compilation of the Hickory material as “Donovan P. Leitch.” In addition, Janus repacked Donovan’s further 1965-66 material into 1971’s “Hear Me Now” before Pye sold their interest in Janus to GRT. After that, Pye contracted with Bell Records to further repackage the early Donovan material.

So for the short window of 1970-1971, Janus had the rights to all of Donovan’s early material. Of these releases, Janus reissued the “Hey Gyp” single in 1970. Like the 1966 Hickory release, the 1970 reissue failed to chart. Unlike Donovan’s later recordings with Epic, the 1965-66 material on Hickory and later Janus were sparsely produced. “Hey Gyp” and the other recordings from this era only featured Donovan on guitar, harmonica, and vocals with no other supporting musicians.

The “Gyp” in the song was inspired by Donovan’s best friend and road manager Gypsy Dave Mills. Part of the song’s failure to chart may be due to the title of the song. Neither “Hey Gyp” nor the parenthetical title of “(Dig the Slowness)” appeared in the lyrics. Titling the song “Just Give Me Some of Your Love” may have made all of the difference in the single’s sales and airplay – during both of its runs.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Janus Records: Another Night

It’s Wednesday, and you know what day it is – “it’s hump day!” I know, I hate that commercial as well; but today, we celebrate Wednesday with our fourth example from Janus Records and the UK prog rock band “Camel.”

Today’s featured song “Another Night” was credited to all four members of the band, and it was sung by Andrew Latimer who also played guitar and flute. Unfortunately, “Another Night,” the single from their fourth album “Moonmadness,” failed to chart upon its release.

Janus, the band’s US record label, also took the liberty of using an alternate cover for the 1976 album “Moonmadness.” Apparently they felt that a band named Camel should have a camel on the album. The UK issue had no discernible camel image on the cover, so Janus put a camel on the moon in a space suit. Despite a small loyal following, Camel never caught on in America.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Janus Records: She Loves To Be In Love

The UK band Charlie had a better reputation in the US for their album covers than for their hits on American radio. Their albums sported pictures of beautiful women, and although the band was better known on album radio than in the mainstream music scene, they produced some great music – even if most folks are not familiar with their name.

Charlie released two albums and four singles for Janus Records during their run with the label before it went into receivership. They had actually recorded a third album (“Fight Dirty”) for Janus that was subsequently released on Arista who had purchased the Janus catalog, but did not totally support the band in their efforts.

Charlie’s highest charting single on Janus did not become a Top 40 hit although this 1978 release had the potential for doing so as it has a great hook and good production. “She Loves to be in Love,” although getting some Top 40 play, only charted at #54 in the US.

Suffering from numerous problems that, as the band’s official web site dictates, were worthy of Spinal Tap, the band folded in 1987. In 2009, the band reformed and released “Kitchens of Distinction” which began as a solo project for lead vocalist and guitarist Terry Thomas.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Janus Records: Year Of The Cat

It’s not often that I can point to a specific point in time when I first heard a particular song, but I remember when I was introduced to Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat.” It was a Sunday evening in February 1977 and I was driving on WV Route 10 through Salt Rock, WV. I had just purchased a new Chevy Vega and it came equipped with an FM radio – my first car with such a luxury. I was listening that evening to WKEE-FM in nearby Huntington, WV and “Year of the Cat” came across the airwaves. I was so mesmerized by the song that I pulled off the highway to hear it in its entirety.

It took Al Stewart 10 years to make “Year of the Cat,” as he had devised the melody in 1966 for an abandoned song he started called “Foot of the Stage” that he had began writing after seeing a performance by comedian Tony Hancock. The original idea was scrapped and Stewart used the tune for a new song he recorded in early 1976. The title was inspired by the Vietnamese zodiac sign of the cat, which corresponds with the Chinese zodiac sign of the rabbit. Peter Wood, who supplied the piano arrangement, is credited as the song’s coauthor.

Released on Janus Records in late 1976, the song climbed to the #8 position on both the Hot 100 and the AC charts by March 1977. Although it is over 35 years old; the tune, its arrangement, and the suburb production of Alan Parsons is every bit as fresh sounding in 2013 as it was in 1977.

The “Year of the Cat” has three successive leads that featured Peter White on acoustic guitar, Tim Renwick on electric lead guitar, and Phil Kenzie on alto saxophone. In addition to its chart performance, “Year of the Cat” was used in two movies: “Radiofreccia” and “Running with Scissors.” In addition, you have to love a song that references Peter Lorre, Bogart, and patchouli.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Janus Records: Baby Take Me In Your Arms

It has been a hectic day for me, and so this post is extremely late. It’s the fourth week of November and this month I have Janus Records as our featured label for this week. Named after the Roman god of beginnings, Janus Records was founded in 1969 as a joint effort of GRT Records in the US and Pye Records of the UK.

At the time, Pye had no outlet in the US – so they often had to contract with American labels in order to get recordings released stateside. It was a perfect arrangement, as Pye officially had an American voice. By 1971, GRT Records assumed total control of Janus and ran the label until it folded in 1979.

This week should prove interesting as I’ve already featured many of the better known songs released on Janus, so we are going deep into their catalog – some of which were originally released on Pye in the UK.

One of the better known singles on Janus was a release by Pye recording artist Geoff Turton – who recorded under the name of Jefferson. His third single, and his first on Janus, was released in November 1969. “Baby Take Me in your Arms” was not only successful for Jefferson, it was the first Top 40 hit on the Janus label. Although it failed to chart in his native land, it peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #23.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Byrds: He Was A Friend of Mine

Fifty years ago today, we lost a president – the fourth to have his life taken at the hands of an assassin. I remember hearing that word for the first time in November 1963. At the time, I was in the third grade at Green Valley Elementary School in North Versailles, PA. Once the news broke, the principal, Mr. Butler, assembled the entire school into the gymacafatorium to watch the news coverage on the TV that they wheeled into the room.

Watching important events on TV was not unusual for students at Green Valley, as we had watched most of the Mercury launches in the same location. Here again, history was unfolding right before our young eyes.

Was Kennedy the greatest president? Probably not, but he was symbolically beatified by Americans following his tragic death. Even today we as a nation tend to remember the good – we are challenged to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He may not have been the best president, but he will always be part of the revered pantheon of the Oval Office.

America lost its innocence with the killing of our president. It changed us forever and it hit the youth of America especially hard. The night of Kennedy’s assassination, Jim (now Roger) McGuinn sat down and rewrote the words to a traditional song originally known as “Shorty George.” In the original version, the singer lamented a death of a friend and McGuinn used that motif for his connection to JFK.

Two years later in 1965, “He was a Friend of Mine” appeared on The Byrds’ second LP “Turn! Turn! Turn!” While not commercially issued as a single, Columbia tested the waters by releasing a promotional copy to radio stations, but the lack of airplay failed to generate a commercial release.

He was a friend of mine;
He was a friend of mine;
His killin’ had no purpose’
No reason, or rhyme;
He was a friend of mine.

He was in Dallas town;
He was in Dallas town;
From a sixth floor window,
A gunner shot him down;
He died in Dallas town.

He never knew my name;
He never knew my name;
Though I never met him,
I knew him just the same;
Oh, he was a friend of mine.

A leader of a nation,
For such a precious time;
He was a friend of mine.

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” – John F. Kennedy

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Joe Cocker: Feeling Alright

Written by Dave Mason, he recorded “Feelin’ Alright” on Traffic’s self-titled second album and later on his solo LP “Headkeeper.” Although both versions received a modicum of album rock airplay, neither was destined to be a hit. Traffic’s single went as high as a whopping #123 and Mason’s solo version was never issued in a 45 format. Beginning in 1969, other musicians took their hand at making the song a hit.


Joe Cocker released his version in 1969 and it stalled at #69. Later that same year, Mongo Santamaria barely squeezed into the Hot 100 at #96. By 1971, the song was resurging with Grand Funk’s showing at #54; however, the highest charting version came in 1972 when A&M Records decided to re-release the single with the same catalog number. It finally broke the Top 40 and went to #33.

Most of this attention can be attributed to album radio playing the live version of “Feeling Alright” from Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” LP. By having a mastered single version of the tune from the LP “With a Little Help From My Friends, A&M quickly met the public’s need for a 7 inch version of this tune.

Unlike Traffic’s and Mason’s versions of the tune, the “G” in the title was not dropped and was released as “Feeling Alright” as opposed to “Feelin’ Alright.” Session musicians contributed to Cocker’s hit and included Artie Butler on piano, Carol Kaye on bass, David Cohen on guitar, Paul Humphrey on drums, and Laudir de Oliveira on congas, cabasa, and vibraslap. Backup vocals were supplied by Merry Clayton and sisters Brenda and Patrice Holloway. Good stuff from Joe Cocker.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alison Krauss: Can't Find My Way Home

I stumbled on Alison Krauss’ rendition of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Being that this Steve Winwood composition is one of my favorite songs, I had to check it out. Like most covers of this song, I love it. Krauss’ interpretation appears on the “Crossing Jordan” soundtrack and I’m sure I heard this on the show as I watched the program religiously when it ran from 2001 to 2007.

The mix between acoustic and electric instruments give Krauss’ version a perfect balance. Noticeable in the playback is an upright bass, an acoustic guitar, a Dobro®, a vibraphone, and an electric piano. While it sounds like a Wurlitzer piano is being used, there are enough samplers on the market that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the real thing. Though this is a cover and not the real thing, it is worth a listen or six or seven.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Led Zeppelin III

Our Atypical Tuesdays’ feature centers on albums that have unusual covers, and one of the more unique album packages was the original vinyl release of “Led Zeppelin III.” The album featured a die cut cover, but that, being unusual in itself, was not the only unique aspect of the package. The cover also featured a volvelle – a disc that provided different images in the die cut holes when it was rotated.

As with all of Led Zeppelin’s original album releases, “Led Zeppelin III” was extremely popular and was a #1 album in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. Originally certified by Recording Industry Association of America as a gold record in October 1970 for 500,000 units sold, continuous sales propelled the LP to six times platinum status by 1999.

“Led Zeppelin III” produced one of more the enduring singles from their repertoire – “Immigrant Song.” While not quite 2 ½ minutes in length, “Immigrant Song” became one of their concert staples. The band’s visit to Reykjavik, Iceland inspired Jimmy Page and Robert Plant to pen a song about Viking conquests. The single charted at #16 in the US.

Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, sing and cry:
Valhalla, I am coming!

On we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.

Ah, ah,< We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war,
We are your overlords.

On we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.

So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ben Howard: Oats In The Water

I heard today’s Media Monday’s feature for the first time last Sunday on “The Walking Dead.” In fact, Ben Howard’s “Oats in the Water” was featured twice in the episode “Internment.” As my custom is on Sunday evening, I turn the computer off at 9:00 PM so I can concentrate on my favorite show. I immediately liked the tune, so I when last week’s rerun came on yesterday at 8:00 PM, I had an opportunity to search for the song and found it easily.

There’s something about “Oats in the Water” that grabs me. I’m not sure what it is, but it speaks to me. The song fits the scenes where Rick is driving back to the compound at the beginning of the episode and then later towards the end when Hershel is alone in his cell. The song exudes despair and loneliness – both men are at low and lonely points at the time Howard’s song plays.

Two things about this song grab me: Howard’s guitar and his voice. He finger-picks his left-handed guitar as it is unusually tuned to the modal DADAAD. Similar to DADGAD, the DADAAD tuning allows him more freedom on the fret board to do open barre chords – which he doesn’t do much on this tune, but they are occasionally present.

Since I am currently away from a guitar, I can’t wait until I get to try this one out as I am always interested in different tunings. Although DADAAD is not the most unusual I’ve encountered (that would be Stephen Stills’ EEEEBE), it is unique enough to attract my attention.

Speaking of unique, his voice has an indescribable timbre. He also sings with an accent that is different to my ears – perhaps a confluence of the speech of his native West London and that of Devon – where he lived during his formative years. “Oats in the Water” appears on Howard’s “The Burgh Island EP.”

Live Version from the BBC

To get the full impact of Howard’s playing, one must see him live – and the following video is a-live-in-the-studio recording of “Oats in the Water.” He is joined by India Bourne on bass and drummer Chris Bond. It is interesting to watch the three of them create and communicate.

Bond doesn’t use the garden variety of drumsticks on this cut, but rather he prefers mallets and the strangest brushes I’ve ever seen. They resemble small witches’ brooms and are appropriately called “broom sticks.” So cool.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not My Buddy: Well . . . . All Right

Last week I was telling my friend John Sellards that I had planned to do my Second Week Special on Buddy Holly covers and he mentioned that he had just been listening to Blind Faith’s “Well . . . . All Right.” I responded that the Blind Faith cover was the inspiration for me to do this series, which by the way, concludes with this post.

This is one of the few Holly covers that I heard prior to hearing Buddy’s original version which was issued as the flipside of Holly’s solo single “Heartbeat.” The single had limited chart success as “Heartbeat” only made it to the #82 slot on the charts. “Well . . . . All Right” authorship is credited to all three of then current members of The Crickets along with Norman Petty.

In 1969, Steve Winwood and Blind Faith took “Well . . . . All Right” to a new direction and it sounds more like a Blind Faith original rather than a Holly cover – they truly made it their own with electric guitar, bass, drums, and piano – and a jazzy piano style at that. On the 1958 original, the instrumentation was sparse with Buddy playing an acoustic guitar,  Additionally, Jerry Allison doesn’t play drums on this cut – only his ride cymbal, while Joe B. Maudlin is where he always was – on the acoustic bass.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not My Buddy: Not Fade Away

As we continue our look at Buddy Holly songs covered by others, the most often charting Holly song was “Not Fade Away.” The best known rendition of the song was released in 1964 as The Rolling Stones first American single. Their version charted at #48. In 1973, Eric Hine pushed “Not Fade Away” to the #73 slot and the most recent chart attempt was Sheryl Crow’s 2007 release that went to #78.

For today’s feature, I picked the second most popular cover of the song which peaked at #70 – Tanya Tucker’s 1978 double sided hit that included “Not Fade Away” on the “B” side and “Texas When I Die” which was a #5 country hit. Since Fridays are generally reserved for flipsides, I thought Tanya’s version was appropriate at this juncture.

Although charting at #70 was not a colossal feat for Ms. Tucker, I remember this foray into pop radio as I was a new employee at WAMX at the time of its release. I don’t think we played “Not Fade Away,” but I do remember all of the guys going gaga over the album cover for her latest more rock oriented venture “T.N.T.” The once child singer was “all growed up,” as they say here in Central Appalachia, and my coworkers at WAMX were beginning to take notice.

It was quite the comeback as Tucker’s popularity had taken a slight dip. “T.N.T.” produced two Top 20 country hits and it gave her a vehicle to crossover once again to the pop charts. It was also her first certified gold album since 1973’s “Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone).”

“Not Fade Away” was a flipside as well for The Crickets’ second single, “Oh Boy!” While “Oh Boy!” charted at #10, Brunswick apparently put forth no effort to promote “Not Fade Away” as a double sided hit. To this day, the Stones’ version is the most popular rendition of the song with Tanya Tucker’s cover coming in second. By the way, the harmonica on this cut is played by Mickey Raphael.

Songwriting credits are listed as Norman Petty and Charles Hardin. Born Charles Hardin Holley, the artist not only dropped the “e” from his last name and used his nickname “Buddy” for his stage persona, he only used his given and middle names for authoring credit on “Not Fade Away.” I am not certain of the reason, but it may have been related to his Decca contract.

It was not the only Holly single to feature his writing pseudonym as “Charles Hardin.” Other releases included “Everyday,” “Listen to Me,” and “Tell Me How.” Other artist who have released “Maybe Baby” have credited it to Charles Hardin and Norman Petty; however, Holly’s own name appeared on the original along with Petty’s.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Not My Buddy: True Love Ways

There are just some recordings that cannot be improved upon, and that’s my feeling concerning Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways.” It was recorded during his last formal session, which occurred at the Pythian Temple in New York.

You can’t get better than the arrangement of this song - the strings of Ray Ellis’ orchestra, Al Caiola’s guitar, Sanford Block on bass, the integral harp provided by Doris Johnson, and Ernie Hayes’ tasteful piano; however, the most inspiring part of the song besides the emotion of Buddy Holly’s voice was the haunting sound of Abraham Richman’s alto sax. I get shivers up and down my spine every time I hear this song.

Released in 1960 as part the album “The Buddy Holly Story, Vol. 2,” how could this single not be a hit? Sadly in America it wasn’t, and it was a marginal hit in the UK. Today, we’re featuring a 1965 cover of the song by Peter and Gordon.

While Peter Asher and Gordon Waller did an excellent job on their recording, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original – but it still has merit and is good in its own right – it’s just not Buddy. What really chafes me about their version is that it outperformed Holly’s original. While Buddy didn’t chart in the US, Peter and Gordon peaked at #14; and while the original peaked at #25 in Britain, this cover went all the way to #2.

Peter and Gordon’s vocal performance is excellent, the string arrangements outstanding, and the 12-string guitar is a nice touch; however, the alto sax is missing, but there is (I believe) a French horn or a euphonium in the mix – but it doesn’t carry same the emotion as the saxophone. OK, it really is a nice version of the song, and they had the guts to do a key change toward the end – but dang, it’s still not Buddy Holly.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not My Buddy: Tell Me How

In February 1958, Brunswick Records released “Maybe Baby,” The Crickets’ third single release. The record was preceded by “That’ll Be The Day” and “Oh Boy.” On “Maybe Baby’s” flip is a little known song from “The ‘Chirping’ Crickets’” album titled “Tell Me How.” The Crickets’ original version is an up tempo rocking number that lasts a quick minute and 58 seconds. While “Maybe Baby” was the hit and charted at #10, the flip side was not pushed and never charted on its own accord.

In 1999, Nanci Griffith released “The Dust Bowl Symphony” album and recorded her version of “Tell Me How.” This recording was slightly slower and was sung as a duet with Sonny Curtis. For those who know the Buddy Holly story, the real Buddy Holly story, know that Curtis’ life has been inextricably intertwined with that of Buddy Holly.

Curtis was Holly’s lead guitarist on the Decca sessions in 1956, but left Holly’s band prior to the Brunswick/Coral contracts. With Buddy wanting to play more lead guitar, Curtis felt it somewhat less challenging to be moved to the rhythm guitar spot. After Holly’s tragic death on February 3, 1959, Curtis joined The Crickets as lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and principle songwriter.

Curtis’ songwriting talents are evident as he wrote “I Fought the Law,” and “More than I can Say” with Jerry Allison. The Crickets recorded both songs on their 1960 “In Style” LP and they later became hits for The Bobby Fuller Four and Leo Sayer respectively.

The Everly Brothers and Anne Murray both recorded his “Walk Right Back,” and Curtis also penned and sang the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show – “Love is all Around.” The show ran from 1970 to 1977 and Curtis received both synchronization and performance royalties for its TV use.

This acoustic version of “Tell Me How” by Nanci Griffith and Sonny Curtis is a jewel. The use of the celeste evokes memories of Vi Petty’s playing on Holly’s “Everyday.” Not many folks are familiar with this version or the song for that matter, but it is a nice Holly cover for a Wooden Music Wednesday. Wouldn’t you agree?