Saturday, March 30, 2013

Big Tree: Ain't That Pecuilar

If you were living in the Upper Ohio Valley or in the Rust Belt during the mid 1970s, chances are you heard our final selection from Big Tree Records. From Pittsburgh, the band Diamond REO (who is not to be confused with the country band Diamond Rio) released three albums and had a charting single in 1975 with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar.”

The single only peaked at #44, so it isn’t a song that is heard too often today. Their take on the Motown hit was slower and heavier – they really developed their own sound for this song. The single supported the band’s self titled debut album – their only recording with Big Tree Records. Two other singles were also released from the album and included “Rock and Roll Till I Die” and “Work Hard Labor.”

The song used a Talk Box effect that was previously featured on Joe Walsh's “Rocky Mountain Way.” This was well over a year before Peter Frampton made the device famous with his “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel like I Do” hit singles. The tune also has a killer slide guitar part.

Their unusual name came from a former truck manufacturer – Diamond REO Trucks – which was a merger of the Diamond T Motor Corporation and the REO Motor Car Company in 1967 to become a division of the White Motor Corporation.

The REO in the name was the initials of the company’s founder Ransom E. Olds who had also started Oldsmobile, but had sold the Olds Motor Works to General Motors Corporation. One of the REO models also inspired a Champaign, Illinois band to choose the name R.E.O. Speedwagon. It is said that Diamond Rio additionally took their name from the truck brand; however, it appears they used Rio instead of REO probably because of the existence of the former band Diamond REO.

“Ain’t That Peculiar” was released in December 1974, which is not the best time for an unknown artist’s single to chart. Diamond REO was only five months old when “Ain’t that Peculiar” was released. The band had been formed by their manager/producer Dave Shaffer at Red Fox Studios in Pittsburgh with four veterans of the Steel City’s music scene.

Pittsburgh music fans will be familiar with the names of the band’s members. Diamond REO included Bob “Bubs” McKeag on lead guitar and vocals, Norm Nardini on bass, Frank Cruzi on keyboards and vocals, and Robbie Johns on drums. Second guitarist Warren King, not on this recording, was added later.

By January 1975, the single was a breakout at a number of Billboard reporting stations including Pittsburgh’s KQV; WTAC in Flint, MI; and Cleveland’s WIXY. While it never placed within Billboard’s Top 40 ranking, it peaked at #36 in Cashbox. Their debut LP was their only recording for Big Tree; their second album, “Dirty Diamonds,” was on Kama Sutra and their final, “Ruff Cuts,” was released independently.

Although the band had some success by appearing on “American Bandstand” and having opened for Aerosmith, KISS, Frank Zappa, Kansas, Ian Hunter, Ted Nugent, Canned Heat, and Blue Öyster Cult. It's unfortunate that Diamond REO hadn’t been more successful, but it may be due the change in the mainstream public’s musical tastes during the mid to late 1970s – that alone may cause one to opine, “Ain’t that Peculiar”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Big Tree: Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin')

In 1966, Johnny Rivers formed Soul City Records to release recordings by other artists he had signed. Rivers was under contract to Imperial Records at the time and later was moved to United Artists after Transamerica Corporation purchased Liberty and its subsidiaries including Imperial. Up through 1970, Soul City was distributed by Liberty.

In 1970, Rivers sold the label and its catalog to Bell; however, he reserved the right to the Soul City name and logo. In 1976, Rivers resurrected the Soul City logo, as it appeared on his Epic Records' release of “Outside Help,” Later that same year, he revived the label for a short run including his own single “Ashes and Sand.”

When he signed to Big Tree Records in 1977, his Soul City imprint was appeared his recordings with this label; however, the recording masters were the property of Atlantic, Big Tree’s parent company. I would imagine that the inclusion of the logo was a courtesy of the label.

Big Tree was Rivers fourth label since United Artists and it had not gone well for the popular singer of the 60s and early 70s. Although he had charted in the Top 40 with “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1973 (#38) and “Help Me Rhonda” in 1975 (#22), he had not had a Top Ten hit since his cover of the “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” which peaked at #6 in 1972. Prior to this, seven of his singles hit the Top 10 and four additional hits were in the Top 20.

His run with Big Tree produced two singles “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” and “Curious Mind (Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um).” While the latter nearly made it to the Top 40 charts by peaking at #41, his version of “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” peaked at #10 in 1977. From his album “Outside Help,” it was a shot in the arm for Rivers’ career, but sadly it could not sustain him as he had no further hit singles.

Besides “Rockin’ Pneumonia,” “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” was his only other certified gold single. In typical Rivers’ form, it was a cover of another artist’s tune. Written by Jack Tempchin as “Slow Dancing,” Rivers and Big Tree changed the name of the song to “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” because the Addrisi Brothers had just released “Slow Dancin’ Don’t Turn Me On.”

“Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” ended up being Rivers’ swan song. It was his last stab at mainstream popularity and he would be relegated from here on out as an oldies artist. He revived the Soul City label for his own recordings in the late 80s and continues to record new material.


The Funky Kings Original Version

In 1976, Jack Tempchin’s band the Funky Kings released the original version of “Slow Dancing.” Their recording was an Adult Contemporary hit peaking at #13. It did crossover to the mainstream, but did not have enough strength to go beyond its #61 slot.

The original was slower than Johnny Rivers’ hit version of the song. In addition to Rivers recording, the song caught the attention of several other artists in 1977. It was also recorded by Olivia Newton-John, Unicorn, and Lorna Wright.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Big Tree: Emma

Although Hot Chocolate had released eight singles by 1975, but none had charted in the US until Big Tree was licensed the recording of “Emma” in 1975. This was a tune that I had forgotten about and you never hear it on oldies radio. I have two theories on why this occurred.

One is the confusion over the song’s title. Because the woman in the song is referred to both as Emma and Emmaline, most people thought the name of the song was either “Emma, Emmaline” or “Emmaline.”

Composed by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson, the song was inspired by the sadness Brown experienced over the death of his mother. The second theory is that, because the song ends with a suicide, the subject matter is not politically correct to be remembered to this day.

That wasn’t the case in 1975, as “Emma” rose to number 8 and was the band’s third highest charting US hit. It was only eclipsed by 1978’s “Everyone’s a Winner” at #6 and 1975’s “You Sexy Thing” at #3.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Big Tree: The Blacksmith

In addition to our Fourth Week Label Special featuring Big Tree Records, today’s submission covers the Wooden Music Wednesday feature as well. Steeleye Span recorded their second LP, “Please to See the King,” with an adjusted lineup in 1971.

The original UK version of the album was released on the B&C label; however, without an American counterpart, “Please to See the King” was licensed to Big Tree Records for its original North American issue.  By its catalog number of BTS 2004, it appears to be  the fourth album release of the label.

It was the band’s only album to be issued on B&C and Big Tree and the first to be issued in the US. Their debut album, “Hark! The Village Wait,” which was issued by RCA in the UK in 1970 did not make it to the North American shores until 1975 when it was reissued by Chrysalis. “Please to See the King” was reissued by Chrysalis at the same time.

“The Blacksmith” is a traditional English folk song that has been recorded a number of times including two studio versions by Steeleye Span. It appears as #816 on Steve Roud’s Folk Song Index. The lead vocals are performed by Maddy Prior and she is joined by two other original members of the band, Tim Hart and Ashley Hutchings.

New to the band and this album are Peter Knight and Martin Carthy. Knight’s fiddle can be heard on this tune. Although not a member at the time, it was Carthy who suggested the name “Steeleye Span.” John “Steeleye” Span was a character in the song “Horkstow Grange.”

Steeleye Span’s Original Version

This is an up tempo version of “The Blacksmith” that was recorded for the band’s debut album “Hark! The Village Wait” in 1970. This particular version features drums that are missing from the band’s second album. In addition to Prior, Hart, and Hutchings, the band included the husband and wife team – Terry and Gay Woods.

For this album, the band utilized the talents of two drummers: Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention and Gerry Conway of Fotheringay and later of Fairport Convention. Although we are featuring the version from the second album on Big Tree Records, I prefer this rendition of “The Blacksmith” by Steeleye Span.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Big Tree: You Could Have Been A Lady

Most Americans would not become familiar with this staple of Canadian rock until Big Tree Records released their second album in 1972. “You Could Have Been a Lady” was the band’s first US single.

While it was not a colossal hit, the single peaked in the US at #32. It was one two of the band’s three songs to peak at #5 in Canada – the highest position the band achieved in their native land. April Wine would not return to Billboard’s Hot 100 until 1979 with the release of the single “Roller.”

The Original Version by Hot Chocolate

The English band Hot Chocolate, who would later become Big Tree artists, released the original version of the song earlier in 1972. Although released as a single on RAK Records in the US, their version faced the same fate as another song they had written and released as a single – “Brother Louie.”

Both songs were covered by North American bands that had a better run with their releases. While Hot Chocolate’s label, RAK Records, was established in the UK, its American arm never delivered any hit records and only operated from 1971 to 1973. Later American releases by the band were licensed to Big Tree Records and later to Infinity and EMI America labels. Although a little funkier than April Wine’s version, the original is great in its own right.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Big Tree: Smokin' In The Boy's Room

It took six singles for Brownsville Station to break into the Hot 100 and eight to make it to the Top 40. Released in September 1973, “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” was their highest charting single peaking at #3 during the end of 1973 and the beginning of 1974. Only one other record, “Kings of the Party,” charted in the Top 40; it peaked at #31 in 1974. Both songs as well as three other singles to chart in the Hot 100 were released by Big Tree Records. Their final two Hot 100 hits were issued on the Private Stock label.

The song was composed the band’s guitarist Cub Koda and bassist Mike Lutz. Koda sang the lead parts and played harmonica. “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” appeared on the band’s third album, “Yeah!” It was Brownsville Station’s only certified gold single.

This song has special significance to me as I sang it and played harmonica on the tune while a member of three bands. The interesting thing is that I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.  I was drawn to this number because of the harmonica parts.

Unfortunately, the man who is primarily associated with this song, Cub Koda, died of kidney disease at the age of 51 in 2000.

Live Version from Midnight Special (1974)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Big Tree: She Didn't Do Magic

I took a few days off from the blog due to a trip on Thursday that nearly wiped me out; however, we are back to begin the Fourth Week Label Special. This week, we pay tribute to Big Tree Records and its short ten-year life as a label.

In 1970, music executive Doug Morris created Big Tree as an independent record label. During its first two years of existence, Ampex Records distributed the label until it folded in 1972. With Ampex out of the picture, Big Tree switched its distribution to Bell Records. Morris sold the label to Atlantic Records in 1974. Atlantic discontinued the brand in 1980.

One of the more prolific artists with the label was Kent Lavoie – who was better known by the stage persona of “Lobo.” For Big Tree, he had three Top 10 hits and four additional Top 40 releases on Big Tree and one on MCA. Lobo’s prominence as a star was on Adult Contemporary radio where he had four number one records – three of which were released on Big Tree.

“She didn’t do Magic” was his second single for Big Tree. It always a favorite of mine and it nearly made it to the Top 40 – charting at #46 in 1971. It was the follow-up single to “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” that charted at #5. Both songs appeared on the “Introducing Lobo” album. Unlike some of his other records that missed the Top 40, “She Didn’t Do Magic” didn’t crossover to AC radio. Rather, its flip side, “I’m the Only One” charted at #14 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.

Incidentally, Lavoie’s first band, The Rumors, also included Gram Parsons (The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers) and Jim Stafford who also had a successful solo career.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hall & Oates: She's Gone

When I decided on the weekly feature Thursday Repeats and Threepeats back in October, I had forgotten how many of these tunes I’ve already featured in the past – and thus these are unavailable. Although I could repeat the selections, I have not repeated a recording in the 3 ½ years I've been doing this blog.

Last night I was mentally running down a list of songs that fit the category. Some of the ones that came to mind included “Layla,” “Get Together,” and “Solitary Man”; however, as I searched the site, I discovered that I had already featured all three. So, I turned to the bible of hit records, Joel Whitburn’s “Top 40 Hits.” He typically notes when a song was a repeat chart performance. I opened the book and there it was – a repeat – Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “She’s Gone.”

It was really serendipitous to find it on the very first page that I viewed. From the 1973 Atlantic album “Abandoned Luncheonette,” the single was released in 1974 and had a dismal showing first time out by only peaking at #60.

After three albums on Atlantic and no real hits to show for it, the duo had fulfilled their contract and moved on to RCA Records. In 1976, Hall & Oates were seeing some success with their first single release on the label with “Sara Smile,” which was a #4 hit.

Hall & Oates with Ray Harrah, the author, & Will Shumate; 1982

Because of their recent success at RCA, Atlantic reissued “She’s Gone” and it did much better the second time around charting at #7. It was a good move for Atlantic and they probably recouped a bit of their investment. By the way, the killer sax solo was performed by the late Joe Farrell.

Single Edit

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fairport Convention: My Love Is In America

In May 2006, I had the opportunity to finally witness one of my favorite bands of all time – Fairport Convention. It was an abbreviated version of the five piece band with only three of its members doing an acoustic tour of North America. Sitting next to the stage gave me an opportunity to soak in the music and take about three dozen photos. To top it off, I got to meet the three performers: Simon Nicol, Ric Sanders, and Chris Leslie.

One of the songs performed by the band that night was a tune penned by Chris Leslie. Found on the 35th anniversary CD from 2002 that is appropriately titled “XXXV,” “My Love is in America” is a story about a young Irishman who travels to London to find work. In order to receive the maximum amount of pay for his services, he uses someone else’s name.

In addition, the woman that he loves has moved to America with her family. He dreams of her often and even writes numerous letters, but none are answered. Until he hears that she has married someone else, he continues to remember his love.

Chris Leslie on bouzouki; photo by the author

When Chris Leslie performs the song live, he plays an Irish Bouzouki; however, on this particular recording, he plays mandolin and tenor banjo. Leslie is a prolific storyteller and is a modern day bard. I’m pleased to provide it hear as our Wooden Wednesday selection.


I go to this place with my working hands,
Sea crossing turn my inside,
Left to the sound of the marching band,
We sail at the change of the tide.

When I saw Mary my father said,
He was sailing across the deep blue,
Brighter new days in a promised land,
She would be going there too.

So I keep her in my mind,
There’s a picture on my wall,
Oh, my love is in America,
My love could be anywhere at all.

Oh how we cried on that darkest night,
Everyone leaving the land,
The old generation just sitting tight,
And all of us young bucks with plans,

I'm using the name of another man,
To get a job here for more pay,
I'll walk these strange streets for a better life,
London's the place so they say,

And I keep her in my mind,
There's a picture on my wall,
Oh my love, she's in America,
My love could be anywhere at all.

Anywhere at all...

The music's the one thing that's traveled well,
We meet up and play from our soul,
The kitchen, the work yard, and the seven bells,
Gives us a glimpse of our homes,

Maybe I'll make it to New York state,
Maybe I'll just up and go,
Maybe I'll get back to my hometown,
See if there's work, I don't know.

I sent many a letters to no avail,
Her silence is deafening to me,
Maybe she lives with another man,
Crossing the new country,

Till I know,
I keep her in my mind,
There's a picture on my wall,
Oh, my love is in America,

My love could be anywhere at all.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Concussions: Guitorgan

It’s an organ. It’s guitar. It’s two instruments in one. That was Bob Murrell’s idea when he unveiled the first Guitorgan at the 1967 National Association of Music Merchants’ (NAMM) show in Chicago.

Produced by Murrell’s Musicsonics International (AKA MCI), this Frankenstein of an instrument merged organ circuitry into the body of a thin line hollow bodied electric guitar. The guitars were imported from a variety of Japanese companies and were retrofitted with the organ electronics

The organ circuitry was developed by Baldwin and the sounds were triggered when the string grounded on the segmented frets to produce the individual notes. Fully polyphonic, the organ had 12 oscillators – one for each note. In addition, switches controlled the various organ stops, pipe lengths, vibrato, and sustain. Over the years, the design was improved; however, it never was a popular instrument.

Today’s selection appropriately named “Guitorgan” apparently features the unusual instrument. If you listen closely, you can hear some inherent tracking problems with the organ sounds – but they are ever so slight. The Concussions, who merge surf and other retro sounds while playing vintage designed instruments, are today's featured artist. Like the drawing on the cover of their “Magic Fingers” CD, the band members wear skull masks while performing in public.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fink: Warm Shadow

One thing I like about the current crop of TV dramas is that you are often introduced to music outside of the mainstream. Last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” provided a selection from Fink’s 2011 LP “Perfect Darkness.” Fink is the performing name of Fin Greenall as well as the name of his band.

The song featured at the end of the show was a haunting little tune called “Warm Shadow.” I liked it when I first heard the tune last week and made an effort this week to discover its name. Greenall, who sings lead and plays acoustic guitar, is joined by Tim Thornton on electric and acoustic guitars and drums, and Guy Whittaker on bass.

Live Version

While it sounds as though the primary guitar is played with incessant hammer-ons, it is not – it is strummed as witnessed in this live version of the tune recorded in the Netherlands.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Horslips: The Shamrock Shore

Considered to be the first Celtic-rock album, Horslips’ “Happy to Meet – Sorry to Part” is a joy to experience. It is a fitting introduction to a band that evolved from Celtic music to a full-fledged rock band. I got this album as a gift from an office mate back in 1978. Recorded and released in Ireland in 1972, the remainder of the world saw the release of the album with the octagon shaped cover (depicting a concertina) during the next year. In the US, it was issued under license to ATCO Records.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I feature their rendition of “The Shamrock Shore” which is similar musically and somewhat different lyrically to the song about Irish immigration to America called Paddy Green’s Shamrock Shore. Horslips’ rendition has the protagonist going to London – but longing to be home in Ireland.

The song begins with Jim Lockhart on keyboards and then on uilleann pipes. He is then joined by Charles O’Connor on concertina. Although I am not certain who is singing lead, I would venture to say that bassist Barry Devlin sings on this number, as he was the band’s front man. The slide guitar, courtesy of Johnny Fean, adds to the mournful nature of the tune. Although my ancestors left the Shamrock Shore in the 18th century, this song makes me long for their home.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Jackson

One of the perks of being a radio programmer was the fact that non-American releases sometimes crossed my desk and today’s final example of our “Rock Goes Country” feature is one of those. In 1984, WEA Australia issued an INXS cassette of six regular tunes and one bonus. The kind folks at ATCO records, and probably Marc Nathan, made sure that I got a copy of this cassette.

The bonus track is the one we are concerned with as it features INXS and Jenny Morris doing the classic country number “Jackson.” Back last fall, I featured the 1967 recording of the tune by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. Although not the first recording of the song, it was the first to chart in the Top 40. Several months later, Johnny Cash and June Carter recorded their country hit of the same song that peaked at #2.

Australian artists INXS and their lead singer Michael Hutchence teamed up with fellow Aussie performer Jenny Morris for a duet of this classic country tune. I remember hearing this recording the first time I played the cassette in my car and really enjoyed this rendition of the “Jackson,” which is out of character with INXS’ primary style. As for its performance in the US, it was not released here – and hence never charted and is the ultimate bubbling under hit.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Act Naturally

Today’s Rock Goes Country feature takes us back to 1965 when The Beatles recorded the Buck Owens hit “Act Naturally.” The band recorded this song to give Ringo a vocal track on the UK version of the “Help” album. In the US, “Help” had a different configuration that featured not only The Beatles recordings, but also the film score by George Martin. “Act Naturally” made it to the contrived American release of “Yesterday and Today.”

While it was a “B” side to the #1 hit “Yesterday,” “Act Naturally” was able to make it to the charts as well. The song peaked at #47 on the Hot 100. It was not the first country influenced song by The Beatles, it probably is the most “countrified” song they recorded. It also was the last cover song originally released by the band; however, they recorded numerous covers during the “Let it Be” sessions.

Buck Owens Original

Helping to propel Buck Owens and the Buckaroos to stardom, their 1963 recording of Johnny Russell’s “Act Naturally” was a #1 country record. Voni Morrison is listed as co-writer of “Act Naturally”; however, she received the credit for her influence in Buck Owens recording the song.

Buck Owens and Ringo Starr’s Duet

In 1989, Buck Owens and Ringo Starr teamed up to record a duet of “Act Naturally.” Their new version placed at #27 on the country charts. All three versions were issued on Capitol Records.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Lay Lady Lay

Today’s Rock Goes Country selection doesn’t feature “Mr. Hughes in Dylan’s shoes,” but rather, Mr. Zimmerman in his own shoes. Picking up where he left off with the album “John Wesley Harding” in 1967, Bob Dylan returned to Nashville to record “Nashville Skyline” in 1969. The album propelled to the #3 slot in the US and topped the charts in Britain.

Part of the album’s success was the inclusion of the popular single release “Lay Lady Lay.” It was the second of three singles from the album and peaked at #7 on the Hot 100. Dylan’s new vocal sound, which he attributed to his cessation of smoking, coupled with the performances from a host of Nashville session men produced a sound most palatable to the American record buying public.

Dylan wrote the song in 1968 and it was to be the main theme for the movie “Midnight Cowboy”; however, delays in recording the song got it bumped from the project being replaced by Harry Nilsson’s cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking.”

In addition to his vocals, Dylan played guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. In my opinion, four instrumental elements “make” this song. These include Pete Drake’s pedal steel guitar, Bob Wilson’s organ, Kenny Buttrey’s percussion, and Charlie Daniels’ occasional electric guitar. In addition, the cut features Charlie McCoy on bass.

The percussion part is highly unusual and it was suggested to Kenny Buttrey that he play either cowbells or bongos for the drum part. Much to his chagrin, both were needed for this song and the distinctive percussion on the track was born. Buttrey uses drumsticks on both. He also turned around to play the drum parts on the chorus, but the drums were not miked and they are actually heard as leakage through other studio microphones. Another great country influenced tune for our second week feature.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Garden Party

Day four of our look at Rock Goes Country features Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band with “Garden Party.” The song recounts the situation at a Rock ‘N Roll Revival concert held at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Nelson got through three songs – “Hello Mary Lou,” Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” and  The Rolling Stones' “Country Honk” – our selection from yesterday.

During “Country Honk,” the crowd began to boo. There is some controversy whether they booed Nelson or were reacting to police action among the audience. Nelson took it personally and left the stage and failed to return for the encore.

“Garden Party’s” lyrics mention several individuals who were present at the show. These included John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Yoko brought her walrus), George Harrison (Mr. Hughes in Dylan’s shoes), and Chuck Berry (out stepped Johnny B. Goode; playing guitar like ringing a bell).  Hughes, by the way, was an alias used by George Harrison when traveling.  Nelson’s sentiments are wrapped up in the line, “But, if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”

What was a unfortunate circumstance turned out to be Rick Nelson’s first Top Ten record since 1963, his only Top 40 hit in the 1970s, and the final Top 40 hit of his career. Released during Fall 1972, “Garden Party” peaked at #6 on the Hot 100. The tune also crossed over to the Adult Contemporary and Country charts. While it only made it to 44 on the Country chart, it was a #1 AC record.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Country Honk

While Gram Parsons developed a friendship with The Rolling Stones and rekindled their interest in country music, their “countrified” version of “Honky Tonk Women” known as “Country Honk” was not directly influenced by Parson. From the 1969 album “Let it Bleed,” “Country Honk” was released several months after “Honky Tonk Woman” hit the number one spot in the UK and the UK.

As sources indicate, the original concept for “Honky Tonk Woman” was to be recorded in a country vein; however, the song evolved in the hit version we know today.  While Parsons didn’t directly influence “Country Honk,” he did recommend that Byron Berline play the fiddle part on the recording. “Country Honk” has slight lyrical differences from the better known “Honky Tonk Woman.”

Gram Parsons Version

In 1970, Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers recorded a version of “Honky Tonk Woman” that marries both the original and “Country Honk” versions of the song. The song was never released by the band, but appeared on the posthumous album “Sleepless Nights” in 1976.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Hickory Wind

As we continue our look at Rock going Country, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the influence of Gram Parsons – an influence that will extend beyond this post to the next two posts.  When Parsons joined The Byrds in 1968, he was responsible for changing the band to more of a country-rock vein.

Although some of his input to the album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” had been replaced by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, his trademark song “Hickory Wind” made it the final mix of the album.  The song had been written by Parsons and Bob Buchanan when they were together in the International Submarine Band. 

In addition to singing lead, Parsons played acoustic guitar and piano.  He was joined on the cut by fellow Byrds Roger McGuinn on banjo, Chris Hillman on bass, and Kevin Kelley on drums.  Additional instrumentation was provided by session musicians and included Lloyd Green on pedal steel and John Hartford on fiddle.

“Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was the only album on which Parsons appeared.  He and Chris Hillman left The Byrds and formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. Former Byrds’ drummer Michael Clarke would join this band in time for their second album which was Parson’s final album with the group prior to embarking on his solo career.  In a later incarnation of the Flying Burrito Brothers, another former member of The Byrds, mulch-instrumentalist Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram) joined the band as its drummer.

Parsons would later rerecord “Hickory Wind” as a duet with Emmylou Harris.  This second version of the tune was featured on his second album “Grievous Angel,” which was issued posthumously in early 1974. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rock Goes Country: Nashville Cats

Well, it’s the second week of the month and time now for our Second Week Special. This month, it’s “Rock Gone Country” – rock and R&B bands that recorded a country song or even a country album. There are many examples of this occurring; therefore, it’s difficult just to pick seven recordings as such. But, that’s not going to deter me from trying.

Today’s song features the guitar work of Canadian Zal Yanovsky as one of the 1352 guitar pickers mentioned in the song “Nashville Cats” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. Uncharacteristic of the band’s already eclectic sound, the single managed to make it to the Top 10 in the 1967; it peaked at #8.

With the charts being heavily influenced by British Invasion bands and Motown, it is really unusual that this song was a hit; however, as the week progresses, we’ll see that the two major groups of the British Invasion, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, also recorded in the country music genre.

“Nashville Cats” appeared on the album “Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful.” Written by John Sebastion, the song has misinformation in the lyrics. “When I heard a couple of new soundin’ tunes on the tubes and they blasted me sky high. Then the record man said, ‘Everyone was a yellow Sun record from Nashville and up north there ain’t nobody that buys them.’ And I said, ‘But, I will.’”

Unfortunately, Sun Records were not located in Nashville, but over 200 miles to the southwest in Memphis. Despite this glaring error, it’s a great song and a lot of fun to hear once again. And I bet 1352 guitar pickers had more than 1352 guitar cases as many would have had more than one ax to play.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ten Years After: One Of These Days

Continuing to our tribute of the late Alvin Lee who died on Wednesday, I have picked one of my favorite selections from my favorite Ten Years After album. Released in August 1971, “A Space in Time” featured two single releases: “I’d Love to Change the World” and “Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘N Roll You.” I have previously featured both songs as well as the flip to “I’d Love to Change the World,” “Let the Sky Fall.”

One of the songs that got some AOR airplay was an album cut named “One of these Days.” This song has everything – sparseness, effects, and a great jam at the end that features all of the standard instruments of the band and Alvin Lee's harmonica.

Like many of Ten Years After tunes, the song is in the key of E – a great key for guitarists. If my musical theory is correct, it is in the Dorian mode. “One of these Days” is a great tune and a fitting tribute to one of the best guitarists of the rock era, Alvin Lee.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Alvin Lee - "Sure Will Miss Him!"

Yesterday, Greg Rector posted on my Facebook wall “I was hoping you might work in some Alvin Lee sometime - sure will miss him!” Unfortunately, I hadn’t heard the news of Alvin Lee’s passing and just assumed Greg was putting in a request for this blog as he does from time to time. About 90 minutes later, I understood his statement “sure will miss him!” It was then that I learned of Alvin’s death in Spain on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 of “unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure.”

At the age of 68, he was still young enough to rock and roll and it was unfortunate he was taken from us – we sure will miss him. If there is any musician that had a direct impact on my learning to play an instrument better, it was Lee. During the second semester of my freshman year in college, I would go back to my dorm room and try and figure out some of his licks – on the slower songs mind you. I would have never attempted to try, then and now, to figure out what he did on “I’m Going Home” and other numbers that he played at breakneck speed.

What I was able to pick up were the pentatonic scales which were integral to his solos and compositions in general. With a little bit of knowledge, Alvin Lee’s influence made me a better guitarist and keyboardist – although I’ll never be in his league – he was pure genius. His performance of “I’m Going Home” playing his “bestickered” red Gibson 335 at Woodstock is classic. If you haven’t seen the movie, the three hour epic is worth seeing to just watch Alvin play.

I’ll have to give credit where credit is due. Jim Roach of Pittsburgh’s WDVE turned me on to Ten Years After. Every Sunday, he played three full hours of an artist and would intersperse the music with comments. I taped these three hours and used this a year later to better my musical skills. He also was the one to explain the origin of the band’s unusual name – they formed “ten years after Elvis.”

I’ve already featured some of Ten Years After’s flip sides, so I am dispensing with my typical Friday Flipside feature. Ten Years After, after all, were an album oriented band and they issued few singles in the US and elsewhere. One of those singles was issued on the Deram label in November 1968.

The “A” side,  “Hear Me Calling,” would later appear on their LP “Stonedhenged.” It’s a medium tempo number that has a vocal harmony similar to Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Unfortunately, I could not feature the album version in stereo – which kills – as only an incomplete version of the song is available on YouTube.

Therefore, the single edit in mono is featured. I’ll have another Ten Years After tune tomorrow for our Saturday Bubbling Under feature. Long live Alvin’s music – may he rest in peace and his memory influence millions of others.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Japan: Quiet Life

Typically for my Thursday Repeats and Threepeats I only use songs that were released twice in the US; however, today I’m going to cross the Atlantic for a single that was issued twice in the UK. Japan’s “Quiet Life” album and single, to my knowledge, were never issued in the US. While Ariola-America released the bands first two albums in the US, I cannot find evidence that their third, “Quiet Life,” was released in the US by Ariola-America, Arista, or anyone else. This is getting to be a pattern this week – the third album not issued in the US.

The album was released in the UK in January 1980 and is often touted as the first “New Romantic” type of pop/rock album. You can see how this LP influenced bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, ABC, Ultravox, and others who saw greater success in the 1980s.

Originally released as the flip side their cover of “I Second that Emotion” in Marcch 1980, the cut was reissued as an “A” side in August 1981 and charted at #19. I love the synthesizers on this cut and during the days of monophonic synthesizers; it would have been difficult doing this live, but still possible. The main synth lines used an onboard sequencer to play the 1/16th notes that are found throughout the song. Richard Barbieri is the master of the keyboards.

Others on the cut include band members David Sylvian on lead vocals, Mick Karn on fretless bass, Steve Jensen on guitars, and Rob Dean on guitars. All but Barbieri provide backing vocals. Being that it was not an American release, I can’t tell you where I’ve heard this, but I had a friend (Geoff Gardner) during this period that was highly into the New Romantic movement and heard a lot of this kind of music at his house. I hope you enjoy this cut as much as I have rediscovering it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Michael Hanly & Mícheál Ó Domhnaill: Bríd Óg Ní Mháille

It is little over a week before St. Patrick’s Day; however, I’ve been in an Irish mood recently – especially since I rediscovered an album that I picked up somewhere in the late 1970s. “Celtic Folkweave” was issued in Ireland, the UK, and elsewhere in 1974. I do not believe it was ever released in the US though, and my copy is an Irish import. It was, however, the only recorded output of the duo of Michael “Mick” Hanly and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill who collectively were known as Monroe during their period together in 1973 and 1974, but were not identified as such on this LP.

This folk album features songs sung in Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, and English. A host of Irish musicians, who would later make their mark in the Celtic music scene, contributed to the instrumentation of the album. The album was produced by Dónal Lunny, who was one of the musicians responsible for the Irish music renaissance. Lunny also introduced the bouzouki into Irish music; however, that instrument of Greek origin is not used on this recording.

“Celtic Folkweave” is considered a rare collector’s item as it was never reissued on vinyl or compact disc format after its initial run in 1974. Adding to its rarity, the masters for the album were lost in a fire at Polydor’s pressing plant in Ireland in the 1980s.

Today’s song, “Bríd Óg Ní Mháille,” is sung in Irish and is better known in English as “Bridget O’Malley.” While translating songs from one language to another requires poetic license to create a rhyme, I have included the lyrics of the English version below.

English Lyrics

Oh Bridget O’Malley, you left my heart shaken
With a hopeless desolation, I’d have you to know
It’s the wonders of admiration your quiet face has taken
And your beauty will haunt me wherever I go.

The white moon above the pale sands, the pale stars above the thorn tree
Are cold beside my darling, but no purer than she
I gaze upon the cold moon till the stars drown in the warm sea
And the bright eyes of my darling are never on me.

My Sunday it is weary, my Sunday it is grey now
My heart is a cold thing, my heart is a stone
All joy is dead within me, my life has gone away now
For another has taken my love for his own.

The day it is approaching when we were to be married
And it’s rather I would die than live only to grieve
Oh meet me, my Darling, e’er the sun sets o’er the barley
And I’ll meet you there on the road to Drumslieve.

Oh Bridget O’Malley, you’ve left my heart shaken
With a hopeless desolation, I’d have you to know
It’s the wonders of admiration your quiet face has taken
And your beauty will haunt me wherever I go.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Steve Hillage: Palm Trees (Love Guitar)

I’ve been going through my massive album collection and reintroducing myself to albums that I have forgotten. In 1978, I purchased a British import album by former Gong guitarist Steve Hillage. Although I was not familiar with Hillage, I purchased the album solely for the reason that it was pressed on green vinyl. The album was appropriately named “Green.”

I don’t believe this LP was released in the US at the time, but I found this record with many of its ethereal and enigmatic passages absolutely wonderful. Hillage contributed vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, and guitar and keyboard synthesizers.

My favorite cut on the LP ends side one and is titled “Palm Trees (Love Guitar).” If the sound on “Green” has a Pink Floyd feel, then you have very astute ears. The album was produced by Floyd drummer Nick Mason. Enjoy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tom Waits: Hold On

Last week on the AMC series “The Walking Dead,” the episode ended with Beth Greene (played by Emily Kinney) singing Tom Waits’ “Hold On.” Her a cappella version of the song segued into Waits’ original version from his 1999 CD “Mule Variations.”

Personnel included Tom Waits on vocals, guitar, and organ; Joe Gore and Marc Ribot on guitar; Stephen Hodges on percussion; and Larry Taylor on bass. Although released as a single, “Hold On” failed to chart in the US and did not fare well in Britain where it peaked at #117. While you wouldn’t expect a Waits’ tune to chart, it was nominated for the Best Male Rock Performance Grammy. While the single did not win a Grammy, the album did capture the Best Contemporary Folk Album award.

Released in 1999, “Mule Variations” and “Hold On” were produced by Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan. The CD peaked at the #30 slot on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. It also made it to Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list where it placed at #416.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Stax Records: I Ain't Particular

“Color me green, cause that’s what they call me . . . all because I’m lovin’ you; but they can color me blue if I had to . . . live one day without you.” Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote those lyrics to “I Ain’t Particular,” which became a bubbling under hit for Stax recording artist Johnnie Taylor. Stax’s promotional department referred to this former gospel singer as the “Philosopher of Soul.”

This particular song was not Taylor’s most famous and it certainly wasn’t his highest charting record. “Disco Lady” on Columbia, his only #1 on both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts, holds that distinction. He had numerous other hits – including a dozen or so on Stax that I skipped over for this tune. Why?

Well, the reason is a very superficial one. I wanted to feature the little used green Stax label that was only utilized for five new releases in 1968. While re-releases were issued also on this particular label during that year, only one single each from Mable John (45-249), Rufus Thomas (45-250), Carla Thomas (45-251), Albert King (45-252), and Johnnie Taylor (45-253) debuted with the green label. In fact, Taylor’s recording was the last new Stax record to be distributed by Atlantic.

Now is that superficial or what? Since I already featured Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, and Albert King, only Mabel John and Johnnie Taylor remained. While I like Mabel John’s “Able Mabel,” I like Taylor’s recording better. Its overall chart performance is sad, as Isaac Hayes and David Porter had outdone themselves with the writing of this Stax classic.

“I Ain’t Particular” really had a lackluster showing by charting only as high as #45 on the R&B charts. It failed to chart within or even come close to the Hot 100. The single was produced by M.G.’s drummer Al Jackson and guitarist Steve Cropper. It’s a great tune and I hope you like it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Stax Records: Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven

With a style somewhat different than Stax Records’ standard R&B and soul fare, Albert King brought the blues to 926 East McLemore Avenue in South Memphis in 1966. Known for his smooth vocals, tasty leads, and his Gibson Flying V guitar, Albert King’s records with Stax brought him mainstream appeal. King was with label until 1974.

Don Nix, who had been a member of the Mar-Keys, wrote and produced “Everybody Wants to go to Heaven”; the song appeared on King’s 1971 “Lovejoy” album. The single peaked at #38 on the R&B chart and just barely missed the Hot 100 with a top position of 103.