Thursday, February 28, 2013

Stax Records: Knock On Wood

Original Stax Release

While Amii Stewart had a #1 record with her version of “Knock on Wood,” I still prefer the Stax Records’ original by Eddie Floyd. Floyd’s 1966 release was a #1 R&B hit that only peaked at #28 on the Hot 100. The song was co-written by Floyd and guitarist Steve Cropper. Cropper also produced the single. Instrumentalists on this record included the Stax house band – Booker T. and the M.G.’s – as well as Isaac Hayes, and others.

Second Stax Release

While it’s not typically a repeat song, it is an example of where a label issued the same song by two different artists. The first cover of the song, released on Stax, featured a duet by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Redding normally recorded for Stax subsidiary Volt Records while Carla was a Stax artist. Otis and Carla’s version almost did as well as the original. This 1967 hit peaked at #30 on the Hot 100 and at #8 on the R&B charts.

The idea to pair Otis Redding with Carla Thomas was influenced by Motown’s highly successful male/female duets when Marvin Gaye was teamed with his singing partners of Mary Wells, Tammi Terrell, and Kim Weston. Gaye would also team up later with Dianna Ross. Otis & Carla’s only album together was “King & Queen,” which served to be Redding’s last studio recording before his December 1967 death. Like with the Floyd recording, instrumentalists included Booker T. & the MG’s, Isaac Hayes, and others.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stax Records: Walking the Dog

Stax recording artist Rufus Thomas was sort of anomaly. When he had his only Top 10 hit in 1963 with “Walking the Dog,” he was at the ripe old age of 46 – a little old at the time for the teen crowd, but they followed him anyway. Not that 46 is old mind you, as I am beyond that vintage myself – it was unusual in a Rock ‘N Roll and R&B context at the time.

In addition, he entered the Top 10 after his daughter, Carla Thomas, had done so with her hit, “Gee Whiz” two years earlier in 1961. Both tunes peaked at the #10 position. He may have been the first or even the only parent to chart in the Top 10 after his/her child achieved that feat.

It would prove to be the only time either one would have a Top 10 hit in the Hot 100. Although, Carla’s “Baby” that hit the #14 slot in 1966 would come close. Rufus’s 1970 hits “Do the Funky Chicken” and “(Do the) Push and Pull” would chart in the 20s. All three follow-up hits were released by Stax. Later in life, Thomas returned to a previous profession as a disc jockey on WDAI in Memphis. He died in 2001 at nearly 84 years of age.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stax Records: Hang 'Em High

Today’s Stax Records feature reminds me of the days I worked for WWNR in Beckley, WV. We had an oldies format for the majority of my time I worked there and in the album stacks was Booker T. and the M.G.’s “Greatest Hits” album and “Hang ‘Em High” was one of the cuts I played frequently. Not only did I like it, but the album version was fairly lengthy and that helped cut down on the monotony of the sea of 2:30 cuts we normally played.

The original score for the film was done by Domenic Frontiere and the main instrument besides guitar was harmonica on the title cut. While it was an excellent choice for the soundtrack, it couldn't translate into a top 40 hit. Hugo Montenegro’s cover attempted imitate his previous hit recording of the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”; however, the added vocal tracks destroyed the song’s credibility.

Booker T. and the M.G.’s version of the song made it palatable to radio and it peaked on the Hot 100 at #9 in 1968. It was one of the few songs by the M.G.'s that charted higher on the Hot 100 than it did on the R&B chart where it stalled at #35. The recording featured the classic version of the band that had Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Duck Dunn on bass, and Al Jackson on drums.

As an aside, the group was named for the MG sports car; however, fear of trademark infringement (which would not have occurred) caused Stax Records to fabricate the story that MG stood for Memphis Group. In addition, a grammatical error of an apostrophe followed by an “s” incorrectly named the group when the name should have just had the plural “s.” This is common grammatical error in the US and the M.G.’s were not the only group to confuse the possessive with the plural case.

Booker T. Jones’ explains his technique

A number of years ago, Booker T. Jones demonstrated how he played his Hammond B3 on “Hang ‘Em High” in an interview with What I find interesting that Jones credits George Shearing as one of his major influences for the chord voicing on this song.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stax Records: Hold On! I'm Comin'

The Stax recording studio in Memphis was housed in a converted theater and the owners made liberal usage of the amenities found within this historic building. In the pre-digital age, studios would construct echo chambers within their facilities to be able to recreate the natural ambiance found in concert halls.

In their most primitive sense, one end of the chamber or room was equipped with a speaker and the other end had a microphone. Placing the mic at various distances from the speaker affected the amount of delay that could be achieved. It was a very much a hands on approach that required some trial and error to get the desired effect.

At Stax, the same principal was utilized; however, a specially constructed room was unnecessary. The theater’s former men’s room with its tile floor and walls was the perfect echo chamber. Equipped with a speaker and microphone, the bathroom worked great and that’s where the story of today’s Stax hit begins.

One of the songwriting/production teams at Stax included Isaac Hayes and David Porter. While working on a particular recording session, Porter excused himself to answer the call of nature. Taking longer than expected, Hayes called down to the echo chamber/facilities to find out how long Porter would be taking. David answered, “Hold on – I’m Comin’.” This phrase evolved into their next song that would become a hit for Sam Moore and Dave Prater – better known collectively as Sam & Dave.

“Hold On! I’m Comin’” or “Hold On! I’m A Comin’,” as the song’s title appears on the single, was released in March 1966. It has been suggested that the single’s label was a typesetter’s error and the album has the correct title. It is also registered with BMI as “Hold On! I’m Comin’.”

It was a #1 R&B hit and peaked on the Hot 100 at #21. The single was a complete Stax production featuring Booker T and the MG’s and the Mar-Keys Horns with the instrumentation. The song also became the title cut of Sam & Dave’s next album.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stax Records: I'll Take You There

Being that we have arrived at the fourth week of the month of February, we again feature a particular record label and some of its offerings during the next seven days. For this month, I’ve chosen to feature Stax Records out of Memphis, Tennessee. The label was a rebrand of Satellite Records that was founded in 1957. The name change occurred in 1961 and was an amalgamation of the surnames of its two owners, brother and sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton.

The label was poised for R&B history as prior to rebranding Satellite (and later Stax and its subsidiary Volt) signed a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. Stax signed and recorded the artists and Atlantic took Stax to a national audience.  This arrangement lasted until 1967 when Atlantic was sold to the Warner Brothers/Seven Arts and Stax was relieved of its contract; however, all back catalog material that was distributed by Atlantic remained under that label.

In 1968, Paramount Pictures/Gulf+Western took ownership of Stax Records; however, Jim Stewart and Al Bell dissatisfied with the arrangement, bought Stax back in 1970. Bell bought out Stewart in 1972, and to make a long story short, the label had a multitude of problems including competing with its new distributor CBS Records. Stax declared bankruptcy in 1975 and Fantasy Records would later gain control of its current catalog, the unreleased masters, and the label’s brand.

From 1978-1981, Fantasy reinvigorated Stax and it had a limited amount of success both as a reissue label and a haven for new artists. In the 1980s, Fantasy was able to release alternate versions of the songs owned by Atlantic. Since these were different from the masters owned by Atlantic, Fantasy was able to release songs from Stax’s golden age without violating copyright laws. Stax would remain a reissue label until Fantasy’s new owner, Concord Music Group, fully reinvigorated the label in 2006.

One of the biggest hits of Al Bell’s era of Stax was released by The Staple Singers – “I’ll Take You There.” The song which alludes to heaven was sung by Mavis Staples and contrary to popular belief only features family members on vocals. Instrumentation was provided by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the Memphis Horns.

The guitar solo that is often credited to Roebuck “Pops” Staples was actually played by Eddie Hinton. Three other guitarists (Terry Manning, Jimmy Johnson, and Raymond Banks) all played on the cut. Manning also provided the harmonica and was an engineer on the song. “I’ll Take You There” was a #1 record on both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts. It vies with “Let’s Do it Again” as being the bands most popular recording.

This past Thursday, Cleotha Staples, the oldest of the five children of Roebuck "Pop" and Oceola Staples, died at 78 following nearly a decade battle with Alzheimer's disease. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Elephant's Memory: Mongoose

Typically, I have a great memory when it comes to old songs; however, it was put to the test this past week and I was reminded of a song that I probably haven’t heard or thought of since 1971. It was on one of the forums dedicated to my home area – the Westinghouse/Turtle Creek Valley – that one of the members reminisced about the jukebox we had in high school and that this song was being played constantly.

I don’t even remember the jukebox and when she mentioned “that ‘Mongoose’ song,” I immediately thought of another song which was a local hit – Donovan’s “Riki Tiki Tavi” and it also dealt with the subject of a cobra and a mongoose. Both songs lamenting the adversarial relationship of these two creatures of India were released during the late summer 1970. While Elephant's Memory recorded for the independent Metromedia label and Donovan for Columbia's Epic Records subsidiary, both singles were pressed by Columbia (CBS).

But even stranger than that, both songs stalled side by side for two weeks in 1970 with “Riki Tiki Tavi” at #55 and “Mongoose” at #54. Like an alignment of the planets, the two songs held congruent positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 during the weeks of September 26 and October 3. By the third week, the alignment ended. “Mongoose” moved up to #52 while Donovan’s liberal usage of Rudyard Kipling’s influence dropped to the #72 slot.

By October 17, “Mongoose” inched up another two places to #50 and “Riki Tiki Tavi” dropped off the chart completely. This was the final week for the upward mobility of Elephant’s Memory’s biggest chart success; and during the week of October 24, it slowly began its descent backward down the charts.

Elephant’s Memory had an eclectic career. Carly Simon, believe it or not, was a member for a short time in 1968 - but I am not sure any recorded output with her exists. The band first came to the attention of the public when several of their songs appeared on the “Midnight Cowboy” soundtrack in 1969 earning them a gold record.

From 1972-1976, Elephant’s Memory served as the backup band for John Lennon and Yoko Ono and were rechristened in this role as the Plastic Ono Elephant’s Memory Band. Lennon later produced and contributed to their sole release on The Beatles' Apple Records label.

Well my memory certainly wasn’t like an elephant on this one, as this was a song I truly had forgotten. It’s different; and the band’s influences were multiple – a little funk, a little Latin, a little jazz, and a lot of rock ‘n roll.

Friday, February 22, 2013

J. Geils Band: Whammer Jammer

It is highly unusual for a band/record company to issue two different versions of the same song as a “B” side for a single; however, it does happen. Today’s Friday Flipsides selections are from the J. Geils Band and include two live versions of the instrumental “Whammer Jammer.” Both versions of this Geils’ classic feature the band’s harmonica player, Richard Salwitz, who is better known by the moniker of Magic Dick.

The two renditions showcase Dick’s magic on the harmonica and has long been a show piece for the band. The song is credited to one “Juke Joint Jimmy” which is a songwriting alias for the entire band when contributing to the writing of a particular song. Such is the case with “Whammer Jammer.” The first release of a “B” side for “Whammer Jammer” came from their second album “The Morning After.” It was the flip of “Looking for a Love,” which peaked at #39 in late 1971.

Within a year, another version of “Whammer Jammer” hit the stores as a flipside. Coming from the band’s third album, “‘Live’ Full House.”

 This second recording of “Whammer Jammer” is the one that most people remember, as it got considerable AOR airplay. It was the flip of the single “Hard Drivin’ Man,” which failed to chart. “

Thursday, February 21, 2013

David Bowie: Space Oddity

In 1969, David Bowie’s first single for Mercury Records, “Space Oddity” was released to coincide with the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July 1969. While the song issued on Philips in the UK was used by the BBC coverage of the launch and the subsequent moon landing, the song was panned in the US. No doubt the failed Apollo 1 mission that occurred two years earlier killing all three NASA astronauts was still fresh in the minds of Americans.

US Radio programmers probably would not have felt comfortable playing a song about Major Tom who was lost in space in connection with the impending mission. I know as a programmer, I opted not to play certain songs due to timing and what I considered poor taste. In Britain, the single made it to number five; however, the first US release of “Space Oddity” only peaked at #124.

When Bowie switched labels to RCA in 1972, his two Mercury albums came with him as part of the package and RCA began plans to reintroduce “Space Oddity” to the American public. The first effort came with a promotional EP released to radio stations in 1972. “Space Oddity” was the lead track.

In an effort to promote newer releases, RCA issued the singles “Changes,” peaking at #66; “Starman,” charting at 65; and “The Jean Genie,” which did worst of the three at #71. With Bowie now at least known to the American public, RCA dipped into the vault for the title cut from the “Space Oddity” LP.

Even though the disaster of Apollo 13 occurred nearly three years earlier, the successful return of the three astronauts probably failed to negatively affect the second commercial release of “Space Oddity” in 1973. As it was Bowie’s first hit in the UK in 1969, “Space Oddity” was the first US hit proper for Bowie as it charted at #15. I remember hearing the song and buying it immediately at the nearest National Record Mart.

Bowie plays acoustic guitar and a little known instrument (of which I also own) named the “Stylophone.” Still being used by artists today (such as Little Boots), the Stylophone was a small stylus operated organ/synthesizer that had an onboard tremolo. You can hear it in the glissando effects as well as the single notes that begin at the end of the song’s intro at about :30.

The ethereal keyboard parts, strings, and flute sounds are courtesy of Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron. Wakeman also plays the piano on the cut. The tasteful electric guitar parts were contributed by Mick Wayne. The rhythm section was Terry Cox on drums and Herbie Flowers on bass. Gus Dudgeon did an excellent job with the production. Although it became an American hit 3 and ½ years after its initial release, it was worth the anticipation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Marianne Faithfull: With You In Mind

With a sound likened to an old English ballad, Marianne Faithfull’s “With You in Mind” was written by one of her contemporaries – American Jackie DeShannon. DeShannon only recorded a demo of the song alone with a guitar and never released a commercial version of it. I came to know Marianne Faithfull’s rendition via a playlist on Pandora.

While the cut doesn’t include a guitar, the wooden instrument is a harp – and it works quite nicely. It appears that the harp is accented by a string quartet, a flute, and possibly an alto flute. The instruments of drums and electric bass also appear on the track as well as hand claps and harmony vocals. It sounds as though Faithfull is singing the harmony part as well.

Not released as a single, “With You in Mind” appears on Faithfull’s 1967 “Love in a Mist.” This was her last regular album release in a decade, as her personal demons came crashing down on her. “With You in Mind” is simply beautiful – while the song is performed in Cm the final chord resolves as a C major.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mashup: Uptight Religion

Our Tasty Licks Tuesday selection for this week takes a look at some “tasty” production techniques with a musical mashup. The creator of this particular production took the instrumental track from R.E.M.’s “Losing my Religion” sped it up and overlaid Stevie Wonder’s vocal track from “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”

I stumbled on this video on YouTube totally by accident and was pleasantly surprised when I played it. Kudos to the YouTube subscriber “THEmotownboy” for being able to hear this mashup work prior to doing the production - that's talent.

This particular mashup reminds me of the production on The Beatles “Love” CD where different Beatle song elements were strung together and overlaid.Because the chords are different in the two songs, the vocals of one song over the instrumentation over the other creates a new chordal harmonic. I hope you enjoy this mashup as much as I have.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: Take Me In Your Arms

It wasn’t the first recording of the song and it wasn’t the biggest chart success of “Take me in your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)”; however, Kim Weston’s 1965 version was the first to be released. Previously recorded by Eddie Holland in 1964, his version of this Holland-Dozier-Holland composition was not released until 2005.

The biggest chart success for the song came from The Doobie Brothers in 1975 when Tom Johnston’s interpretation of the tune peaked at #11 on the Hot 100. Another notable version was recorded by The Isley Brothers in 1968 and it charted at #22 on the R&B chart.

Kim Weston’s version will always be regarded as the original release and it remains her highest charting solo number; however, her duet of "It Takes Two" with Marvin Gaye eclipsed her own chart performances. “Take Me in your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” only charted at #50 on the Hot 100 but was a Top 5 R&B Hit in 1965.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: This Old Heart of Mine

Our Friday edition of the Second Week Special featuring Holland-Dozier-Holland ‘s compositions is one that H-D-H had written with another Motown songwriter, Sylvia Moy. While Moy is not credited on the original 1966 version of “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” by The Isley Brothers on Tamla, she is listed as a co-writer on Tammi Terrell’s cover on the Motown label.

Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier produced both recordings; however, the nearly three year lapse from The Isley’s original until Tammi Terrell’s single of the same song shows the different direction that the team and Motown in general were moving. I still prefer The Isley’s Brother’s version as it has the classic Motown sound – a trait that it is often criticized as because it sounds too similar to other H-D-H releases.

Ronald Isley took the lead on this and is backed up by his brothers O’Kelly and Rudolph in addition to Motown’s female session singers, The Andantes. Like the previous records we’ve featured, The Funk Brothers provided the instrumentation.

In the tradition of Holland and Dozier using tuned percussion on their recordings, this song has a xylophone. It almost sounds like a glockenspiel as it is in the higher register; however, if you listen closely, you can hear the woody sound of a xylophone and not the bell sound of a glockenspiel. The song peaked at #6 on the R&B chart and at #12 on the Hot 100. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart

For Valentine’s Day, it is apropos to have a song about either love or the heart. Then, how about both? The Supremes’ “Love is like an Itching in my Heart” was composed by Holland-Dozier-Holland and produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. This 1966 recording peaked on the R&B charts at #7 and at #9 on Billboard’s and Cashbox’s pop charts. The single was issued on Motown’s primary label.

Diana Ross, as usual, was the lead singer on this hit single and was joined by Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson on backup vocals. The production on this single was extremely bright and it was perfect for AM radio and small, oval car radio speakers. The constant snare drum demands that you tap your feet or clap your hands.

The Funk Brothers provided the instrumentation. Not only was there a baritone sax solo, a glockenspiel (sometimes called “bells”) added accent to this hit. The glockenspiel gave this single almost a marching band feel. I love it. Have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: (I'm A) Road Runner

Day number four of our salute to the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland brings us to a hit from Motown’s Soul imprint. While it wasn’t a colossal hit for Junior Walker and the All Stars, “(I’m A) Road Runner was big enough for Motown to issue the single on two albums: 1965’s “Shotgun” and 1966’s “Road Runner.”

Featuring Junior Walker on lead vocals and tenor sax, the band also included Victor Thomas on piano, Willy Woods on guitar, and James Graves on drums. The Funk Brothers’ James Jamerson, who was heard on numerous Motown records of the era, played the driving bass. He was joined by several other members of the Motown house band to round out the sound of the recording.

Often H-D-H productions contained tuned percussion; however, it was unnecessary with Thomas’ piano filling this spot. In addition, the baritone sax and the guitar really add punch to this classic. “(I’m A) Road Runner” charted at #4 on the R&B charts and at #20 on the Hot 100.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: Heaven Must Have Sent You

While Bonnie Pointer had a hit with her 1979 remake of “Heaven Must of Sent You,” I prefer the original that was released on one of Motown’s subsidiary V.I.P by The Elgins in 1966. “Heaven Must Have Sent You” was The Elgins' only hit, but it failed to chart very high on the Hot 100 by only peaking halfway at #50. It was, however, a Top 10 R&B hit charting at #9. When the record was finally released in the UK in 1971, it charted at #3.

Saundra Edwards is the lead vocalist on this track. The production is tastefully down with very simple vibraphone accompaniment that joins the rhythm section, which is presumably by the infamous Funk Brothers house band. There is also a very nice string arrangement that fills out the track. While The Elgins recorded several singles and one album, they never had the success of other Motown acts and would fold in 1967.

Bonnie Pointer’s 1979 Version

Bonnie Pointer’s version was also released by Motown, and while her version also was a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition, it lacked their production expertise. Pointer’s version was produced by Berry Gordy and an H-D-H understudy, Jeffrey Bowen – so there is a little bit of continuity with Holland-Dozier-Holland even though they had no hand in this particular recording.

Motown issued several versions of the song, a standard LP mix, the single edit, a single disco mix, and a 12-inch disco mix that is laden with strings and tubular bells.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: Nowere To Run

Our second Holland, Dozier, and Holland composition that helped define the Motown sound was Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run.” The song, which featured the lead vocals of Martha Reeves on lead vocals, charted at #5 on Billboard’s R&B chart and #8 on the Hot 100.

As with yesterday’s Marvin Gaye recording, “Nowhere to Run” featured the talented house band of Motown Records – The Funk Brothers. The background vocals where handled by the Vandellas – Rosilind Ashford and Betty Kelly.

Often recordings use unique percussion instruments and “Nowhere to Run” is an example of that. Percussionist Ivy Jo Hunter (not to be confused with Ivory Joe Hunter) plays snow chains on this particular recording. If you listen closely, you will hear something that sounds like a bright cabassa – that’s the snow chains.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Holland-Dozier-Holland: Can I Get A Witness

It’s the second week of the month and time now for our Second Week Special. For this month, we will feature the songwriting/production team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. The trio consisted of brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier. While each had started as a performer, they preferred songwriting and production.

The division of labor among the trio included Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier composing the music and sharing production duties while Eddie Holland authored the lyrics and arranged the vocals. The sound was formulaic and set the stage for many of Motown’s hit records during the 1960s. The trio was under contract with Motown from 1962 to 1968.

They continued with their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax, and authored material under the pseudonym of Edythe Wayne to avoid sharing royalties with Berry Gordy while they were in litigation with Motown over their contract.

This week, we will feature only Motown releases and we’ll start with an early classic from Marvin Gaye. “Can I get a Witness” was released in 1963 and peaked on Cashbox’s R&B charts at #3. It was a mid charter on Billboard’s Hot 100 only making it to #22.

In addition to his vocals, Marvin Gaye played the piano and was accompanied by Motown’s house band, The Funk Brothers. In addition to The Funk Brothers on backup vocals, The Supremes are also in the mix.

The song peaked during Christmas 1963, which is notoriously a bad time for singles as radio typically floods the airwaves with Christmas music. Lee Michaels later covered the song in 1971 and his version charted at #39. His version was also poorly timed with the Christmas season. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Allman Brothers Band: Blue Sky

A little late Friday Flipside post this evening, but we have one and it comes in the form of the “B” side by The Allman Brothers Band. While “A” side “Melissa” only peaked at 86, it was one of my favorite tunes from the band’s legendary “Eat A Peach” album. This was the LP that the band was recording at the time of Duane Allman’s death.

The flip to “Melissa” was a Dickey Betts’ composition, “Blue Sky.” Written about Betts’ girlfriend and future wife, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig. Following the couple’s divorce, Betts stopped performing this tune for awhile; however, he currently does it in concert.

“Blue Sky” was the first Allman Brothers’ tune to feature Betts on vocals. Both Betts and Duane Allman share lead and twin guitar duties on this tune. You can hear Duane on the first solo following the initial chorus. The lead morphs into twin leads featuring both guitarists and ends with Betts on lead guitar.

The single was released during the summer of 1972.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

RIP Reg Presley: Wild Thing

“Reg Presley is dead.” I learned that Tuesday evening from a post made by one of the followers of this blog, Dennis Harris, on his Facebook wall. For many of you the name Reg Presley may not conjure an immediate response, but for me it did. You see, although Reg Presley wasn’t his given name (Reginald Ball was), he is immediately known to many aficionados of ‘60s rock as the lead presence in The Troggs.

Although the extent of their American success is limited to three and possibly four releases, the band continued to tour even after Reg Presley retired from the music scene in January 2012 due to complications from a stroke and the discovery that he had lung cancer. It was the latter that claimed his life on Monday, February 4, 2013. He was 71.

It is Presley’s iconic voice that we hear on The Troggs American hits of “Wild Thing,” “With a Girl Like You,” “Love is all Around,” and the minor hit of “I Can’t Control Myself.” While these four songs along with “Any Way You Want Me” were all Top 10 singles in the UK, the only two to chart in the Top 10 in the US were “Wild Thing” at #1 in 1966 and “Love is all Around” at #7 in 1967.

I’m not sure when I became aware of Presley’s identity outside his name being listed on the songwriting credits, but I think it was from a book about the history of rock that a friend, Judd Fritchey, loaned me in during my junior year of high school. I remember reading it during a bout of the flu one winter and taking notes on the various bands that were listed in this volume.

Presley’s voice had rough edge and his style and was full of energy. It was not unlike others that came from working class Britain – such as The Beatles’ John Lennon, The Animals’ Eric Burdon, The Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger, and The Kinks’ Ray Davies. The Troggs, who had shortened their name from The Troglodytes, epitomized the garage band sound that would later inspire a generation of punk rock acts.

To honor Reg during this week of his passing, and to fulfill our typical Thursday Repeats and Threepeats feature, I have chosen the song “Wild Thing.” While it wasn’t issued at two different times in the US (it would be in the UK), it was simultaneously released on two divergent record labels.

It is not known specifically how “Wild Thing’s” master was leased to two American record labels, but it was issued to both Fontana, their label in the UK, and ATCO. Fontana, a subsidiary of Philips Records, had been established in the US in 1964 and was distributed by Philips’ American arm Mercury Records. When Mercury would pass on issuing a release from another company, the recording was then offered to other labels.

ATCO typically became the American home for many of these recordings and artists. Both Fontana and ATCO simultaneously released “Wild Thing”; however, each had a different “B” side. The ATCO version featured “With a Girl Like You” as the flip, and the Fontana release had “From Home” on the “B” side. “With A Girl Like You” would resurface as their second single in the US on Fontana.

Both ATCO and Fontana released the corresponding album that was issued by both companies as “Wild Thing” in the US. The original UK LP was titled “From Nowhere – The Troggs.” It is the only time in the US where a song on competing labels charted at #1 and both Fontana and ATCO were given credit in Billboard. Incidentally, their third US single “I Can’t Control Myself” was simultaneously issued by both with the same flip side, “Gonna Make You.”

“Wild Thing,” written by Chip Taylor, was originally recorded by The Wild Ones in 1965; however, it was The Troggs that made the song a colossal hit. Not only was it a #1 record in the US, it peaked the charts in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. It charted at #2 in the UK. If you notice on the ATCO version of the single, the songwriting credits were incorrectly flipped. Chip Taylor is credited with writing “With A Girl Like You” while Reg Presley is listed as the composer of “Wild Thing.” The publisher credits are also incorrect.

Another anomaly concerning “Wild Thing” was the use of an ocarina as the lead instrument in the song. Colin Fretcher, who was acting as the recording’s musical director, played the clay transverse flute. It is probably the reason that the guitar and bass in this song are not tuned to A-440, but are somewhat sharp – but not sharp enough to be played in A#/Bb. My guess is that the band tuned their instruments to the fixed tuning of the ocarina.

Ocarina master - Colin M. Fretcher

While it may be the only Top 40 hit with an ocarina, it certainly is the only #1 record to feature the instrument. Add the ocarina to the raucous guitar and the unique vocals of Reg Presley and a hit was born. Rest in Peace Reg and thanks for your many contributions to rock ‘n roll – you made “everything groovy.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hot Tuna: Good Shepherd

I had a hard time deciding what to pick for this week’s Wooden Music Wednesday, but I went with my first instinct and decided to feature Hot Tuna’s live version of “Good Shepherd.” The current version of the band includes two original members of Jorma Kaukonen (on guitar and vocals) and Jack Casady on bass. A more recent member is Barry Mitterhoff who plays the most outstanding licks on his mandolin. Mitterhoff joined the band in 2002

I’ve previously addressed the evolution of this tune when I featured Jefferson Airplane’s version back in 2010. So, you can check that out as well. Kaukonen and Casady were also original members of Jefferson Airplane. Casady, by the way, is playing the Jack Casady Signature Epiphone bass, which is modeled on the Gibson EB-2 bass he often played with the Airplane.

This rather long live cut was recorded at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio, which is about 2 ½ hours from where I live. I need to go there someday. This is a wonderful acoustic version of this classic traditional number that Kaukonen has been performing since the early 60s.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Locomotiv GT: Rock Yourself

I was looking for something in my rather large record collection yesterday and found a number of albums that I have forgotten to have owned. Unfortunately, after several moves, my collection has no discernible order. One album I found was a 1974 release on ABC Records for the Hungarian band Locomotive GT.

The album didn’t see much action in the US and this debut LP was a conglomeration of material from their first three albums that were released in their native Hungary. I first heard the band during the summer of 1974 on WZUM “Sweet 16 on your AM Dial” – so their advertisements on National Record Mart bags declared.

At that time, WZUM in Carnegie, Pennsylvania – a suburb of Pittsburgh – was owned and operated by NRM; hence, their ability to pay for such advertising in the Pittsburgh market – which was the 10th largest metro area in the US at the time. It has since dipped to the number 22 spot.

WZUM was not a powerhouse station. At 1,000 watts, this day timer was at the second worst spot on the AM band at the time – 1590 kHz. Living 13 miles to the east of downtown, I had a difficult time picking up the station; however, after 4PM in the afternoon, they played the most amazing music until signoff - which was as late as 8:30 during June. It was a limited time, free form, AOR format and the staff played music that was not heard on the two AOR FM stations in the market, WDVE and WYDD.

Throughout that summer, I heard Locomotiv GT on WZUM and I eventually bought the album at a used record store. The album is pretty good and the songs were mostly in English with some Hungarian lyrics thrown in for good measure. The album was produced by Jimmy Miller who had produced The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Blind Faith, and others during the period. Ex-Cream member Jack Bruce appears on one cut of the album playing harmonica. Miller himself, who lent his expertise with the cowbell to the Stones' “Honky Tonk Woman,” played percussion on Locomotiv GT's LP.

Our cut today, “Rock Yourself,” was the first single to be released from the album; however, it failed to chart. It was co-written by Anna Adamis – who was not a member of the band and Gabor Presser – the band’s keyboardist.

The song has a real fusion feel to it and features the alto sax of Thomas Somlo – who was also the band’s bassist and also was featured on electric violin and vocals. Thomas Barta is featured on guitar and vocals and Joseph Laux was the band’s drummer. A wah-wah pedal was used on the guitar and perhaps on the electric piano as well. “Rock Yourself” also features a mysterious conga player who is credited only as “XY.”

“XY” was probably someone who Jimmy Miller knew, but was under contract with another label. Some top contenders in my book would be Charlie Watts, Jim Capaldi, Rebop Kwaku Baah, or Jim Gordon. We may never know for sure. In the middle of the song, the band breaks into Hungarian. This was probably edited out of the American single, but I cannot say for certain as I don't have a copy of the single edit; however, it would make sense that would have been cut in the US. Enjoy this lost treasure from the early 1970s.

Monday, February 4, 2013

C2C: Down The Road

This is a little different feature for Reading Between the Grooves, but I caught this tune on Dr. Pepper commercial a few weeks ago and had to find out who did “Down The Road.” The group is C2C from France and they are a quartet of DJs and this is all done with the turntables and no live music.

Take it from me, after 20 years in radio and an additional 10 years as a mobile DJ – this takes as much talent to perfect as it does to be an instrumental virtuoso. It is well beyond my scope of talent.  It makes me wonder if they augmented their turntables with keyboard samplers; however, I cannot find anything that might suggest that option.

“Down the Road” was a number one record in France and it comes from their album Tetra. I couldn’t find out much about the group or the samples with the exception of the main vocal cut which was lifted from an Eddie Cusic track, “You Don’t Have to Go.” I would love to know from whence the harmonica samples emanate.

Some will find this unusual that I like this track, but I absolutely love it. My youngest daughter gives her two thumbs up and she usually hates any music I like – but it is more like her generation and not mine.

Dr. Pepper Commercial

Eddie Cusic: You Don’t Have to Go

It’s hard to believe that this was one of the primary samples used for C2C’s recording, but here it is in all of its original glory at the correct speed.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Triumph: Magic Power

I never met the Canadian power trio Triumph – in fact, I’ve never seen them in concert; however, in 1982, I had a chance to meet Joe Owens, a member of their management team in Atlanta. The occasion was my first visit to the Bobby Poe Pop Music Survey Convention. On one of the nights, Warner Brothers picked up the tab to bus all of the attendees (including their competitors) into downtown Atlanta to a Chinese restaurant.

The two of us sat next to each other on the bus and at the dinner and struck up a friendship. That was the only time I believe I had the pleasure of meeting Joe, but for years after that, I would occasionally hear from him – sometimes by phone when a new Triumph single was released and often he just sent me some Triumph memorabilia or a Christmas card each year.

I was thinking that perhaps we sat next to each other on the bus because it was alphabetical – you know Owens then Owston; however, in those days, I was strictly known by my air name of “Jim Martin” and that’s how I was registered at these conventions. Therefore, it must have been luck of the draw. He became a good, albeit distant friend in the music business.

I lost track of Joe by 1987 when I went to work for WWNR and our A/C in the daytime/urban format at night did little to promote Triumph’s style of music. Within six months we became an oldies station and simultaneously lost any interest from the record companies, but that format allowed us to compete locally.

The Internet is a wonderful thing, and as I looked up Joe’s name, I discovered that he is currently president of ESI and has achieved numerous successes in music marketing over the past three decades. He has really followed his craft.

Our Bubbling Under song today is from Triumph; however, I was playing in on the radio prior to meeting Joe. I would have no doubt been promoted on it by Susan Wax and Phil Quartararo from RCA Records and a host of independent promoters like Tony Muscolo.

Triumph’s “Magic Power” did not crack the national Top 40, as it only peaked at #51; however, it did make it to #8 on the AOR charts. In Beckley, WV, it did better than it did nationally as it had the support of two and perhaps three stations in our parallel three market. My employer WCIR, played it and the local AOR outlet, WOAY was playing it. Since WWNR was a Top 40 station at the time, they probably played it as well. If my memory serves me correctly, it probably charted locally in the low teens.

The single came from Triumph’s “Allied Forces” LP and was the first of four cuts to be released to radio in 1981 and 82. The others were “Allied Forces,” “Fight the Good Fight,” and “Say Goodbye.” It’s a great tune and as I played it this morning I remembered a good bit of the lyrics. “I’m young, I’m wild, and I’m free; got the magic power and the music in me.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Byrds: Old John Robertson

One of my favorite bands of the 1960s was The Byrds – a group that started as a folk-rock band and evolved eventually into one of the early country-rock bands. The first single that I purchased with my own money was The Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman” and the first cassette that I bought was their album “The Notorious Byrd Bothers.”

Today’s Friday Flipside selection comes from that very album; however, the single that was issued previous to the album has a different mix. The single version eventually appeared on the CD version of the “Younger than Yesterday” album and is immediately followed by a David Crosby guitar instrumental titled “Mind Gardens.”

While Crosby was fired during the recording of “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” and does not appear on all of the cuts; however, he is on “Old John Robertson” playing bass while Chris Hillman plays rhythm guitar and sings lead. The song’s bridge was quite different from other Byrds’ recordings as it included a string quartet break that almost sounds baroque influenced.

Hillman and Roger (i.e., Jim) McGuinn wrote the tune about John Stuart Robertson who had lived in the same town (Escondido, California) as Hillman and always sported a Stetson cowboy hat. His vintage look gave the appearance that he was straight out of the old west. Robertson, a retired film director, died in late 1964 almost three years prior the release of the single during summer 1967.

“Old John Robertson” would be a foreshadowing of The Byrds’ country sound of later albums and it was relegated to be the flip of “Lady Friend” a David Crosby song that would not appear on a US Byrds’ album until 1982 when it appeared on “The Original Singles: 1965-1967, Volume 2.” “Old John Robertson” also appeared on this volume. “Lady Friend” only charted at #82.

Album Version

The album version introduced flanging to the mix – a technique that was found on several songs on “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.” There is also a fiddle on the cut that wasn’t present on the single. The fiddle player was not credited on the album.