Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rock In Peace J.J. Cale

I said to my wife yesterday, “J.J. Cale died on Friday.” To which she replied, “Who’s J.J. Cale?” Knowing that she is not an aficionado of much of the music to which I am familiar, my answer was simply, “He’s the guy who wrote ‘After Midnight.’” That and a lot of other things, but I assume that will be some folks only frame of reference which is sad – as he was a talented songwriter and musician that never got his due. Neil Young once said that the two greatest guitarists were Jimi Hendrix and J.J. Cale – that’s good company from a guy who is not too shabby on his own Gretsch White Falcon.

Cale’s biggest solo hit was “Crazy Mama,” which made it to #22 in 1972. I didn’t pick that particular tune, as I am planning on using it at the end of August during our fourth week special on Shelter Records. He had two other singles to chart – his version of “After Midnight” and “Lies” – both peaking at #42.

Clapton’s release of “After Midnight,” which charted at #18, predated Cale’s charting version of the tune by two years. I’ve already featured Cale’s and Clapton’s versions of the song several years ago. Cale had originally recorded “After Midnight” in 1966 as the “B” side of the single “Slow Motion.”

“Lies,” today’s feature, was the lead cut from his second album “Really.” While the album was released in 1973, the single came out in November 1972. Lies was the only cut from the album that was recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

He would return to Quinvy Studio in the same city to record two further cuts. The remainder of the album was recorded at three studios in and around Nashville. Cale wrote ten of the 12 cuts on the album. Of the other tunes, one was from Muddy Waters and the other from Shelter Records’ label-mate Don Nix.

Cale died on Friday in La Jolla, California of a heart attack. He was 74 years old. Long live this guitar and songwriting genius – Rock In Peace.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sun Records: Cinnamon Girl

Our final look at the catalog of Sun recordings takes us back to 1970 following the purchase of the label by Shelby Singleton. In 1969, Neil Young and Crazy Horse had recorded “Cinnamon Girl” for his “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” album release, but Reprise had not yet released the song as a single. Seeing an opportunity, The Gentrys recorded the song for their self-titled release on Sun Records.

Their version of “Cinnamon Girl” was their second single on the label and was the follow-up to their song “Why Should I Cry” which peaked at #61 in early 1970. “Cinnamon Girl” did a little better by charting at #52 in June of that year.

Lead vocalist Jimmy Hart and the band did an excellent job recreating Neil Young’s vibe on this recording. Their version is slightly faster and doesn’t include the tag as found on the original. Jimmy Tarbutton’s lead guitar has a little more imagination that Neil’s very simplistic lead on this song, but while Neil’s is not as complex, it sounds more natural, while Tarbutton’s seems stilted. Sometimes less is more.

The Gentry’s near success with the tune prompted Reprise to issue it as a single; however, Young’s release failed to chart as high as The Gentry’s cover of the song. Neil’s original version peaked at #55. Now you know the rest of the story.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sun Records: Baby Let's Play House

It would be impossible to have a tribute to Sun Records without a little Elvis music recorded in Memphis. Sun Records released ten sides (five singles) of Elvis backed by Scotty Moore and Bill Black in 1954 and 1955. The recordings were issued both on 78 and 45 and are the most sought after Elvis commercial releases to date.

On February 11, 1955, Elvis covered Arthur Gunter’s “Baby, Let’s Play House.” Gunter had recorded the song on Excello the previous year and Elvis’ rendition is memorable, as it was his first national hit. Believe it or not, it did not chart on the pop or R&B charts as did his Sun contemporaries had done or will do, “Baby, Let’s Play House” was a #5 record on the country charts.

When RCA bought out Elvis’ contract from Sam Phillips late in 1955, they paid $40 thousand – which was the highest payment for a recording contract to date. In 2013 dollars, that equals $343 thousand. This was a small investment for the millions upon millions that RCA earned from his years with RCA from 1956 to his death in 1977 and beyond.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sun Records: Ooby Dooby

He was known as the “Big O” and Roy Orbison and The Teen Kings had recorded the song “Ooby Dooby” on a small, local Texas label in 1955. Impressed by the group, Sam Phillips signed The Teen Kings to Sun Records in 1956 and rerecorded “Ooby Dooby” in 1956.


Orbison’s first major release, “Ooby Dooby,” was a minor hit for Sun and only peaked at #59 on the national charts. While the single only sold 200 thousand copies, it was enough to gain him some notoriety which was compounded by his touring with other Sun artists. His greatest chart successes, however, came when he signed to Monument Records in 1959 where he had nine Top 10 pop singles and four Top 10 adult contemporary hits.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sun Records: Folsom Prison Blues

What do Eldridge Cleaver, Charles Manson, Timothy Leary, Rick James, and Johnny Cash have in common? They all spent time in Folsom State Prison; however, Cash’s time was limited to two concerts – one in 1966 and the other in 1968. While Johnny Cash, based on the song “Folsom Prison Blues,” gained a reputation of being an ex-con, he never was a prisoner. He had on occasion spent a night in jail on a variety of charges, but never was the hardened criminal as portrayed in this Sun recording from December 1955.

The original version of the song with the Tennessee Two was actually a flip side to the intended hit of “So Doggone Lonesome”; however, both got airplay and both peaked on the country charts at #4. He revisited the song during his second performance at Folsom State Prison in 1968 and this live recording crossed over to the pop charts at #32. It was a number one country record as well.

While it may not be the perfect country song as it doesn’t mention trucks and getting drunk, “Folsom Prison Blues” does include prison, trains, and mama. Guns, which are not listed on David Allan Coe’s and Steve Goodman’s list of perfect country song elements, are also found on “Folsom Prison Blues.”

One of the most powerful lyrics in the song is “I shot a man in Reno – just to watch him die.” It has been said that Cash picked this line as he wanted to have the most despicable reason to kill a man and that the thought of killing someone just to see him die was about as low as one could go. When the live version was released in 1968, prisoners’ cat calls were later added after this line of the song. The prisoners did not actually react to the verse for fear of reprisal from the guards.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sun Records: Ubangi Stomp

Written by Charles Underwood, Warren Smith’s 1956 treatment of the “Ubangi Stomp” is a rockabilly standard. Unlike the two previous Sun recordings we’ve featured this week that had great chart success, “Ubangi Stomp” failed to chart.

The song was popular tune for rockabilly artists to record and it has been covered by The Stray Cats and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as being recorded by a host of others that included John Prine, Alice Cooper, and The Trashmen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sun Records: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

For a small, independent label, Sun Records hit the mid 1950s in a big way. One of the label’s best known artists was a fair-haired, Louisiana rocker and his pumping piano. Jerry Lee Lewis came from a musical family and was a cousin to several other famous pianists: Jimmy Swaggart, Mickey Gilley, and Carl McVoy of Bill Black’s Combo.

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was first recorded by Big Maybelle during spring 1955. In fall of that year, Roy Hall recorded his version of the tune. Jerry Lee recorded the song in February 1957 during his second session at Sun Studios. Sam Phillips was concerned that it might be too risque to be a hit, but he was wrong.

Like Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was a major hit on three charts. It was a #1 hit on the Country and R&B charts and it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. While there is a fantastic guitar lead on the single, Jerry Lee Lewis demonstrated that the piano could be equally viable as a rock ‘n roll instrument.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sun Records: Blue Suede Shoes

It’s the beginning of the fourth week of the month and time to bring another Fourth Week Label Feature. This month, we begin our tribute to Sun Records of Memphis, TN. Sam Phillips started Sun Records in 1952 with the intent of recording local rhythm and blues artists.

In the mid fifties, it became the label catering to different musical genres including rock ‘n roll, rockabilly, and country. A number of notable artists recorded for Sun including, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Conway Twitty, Charlie Rich, and others. This week, we’ll feature seven records from the Sun stable of artists.

In 1969, Shelby Singleton purchased Sun from Phillips. While the label was primarily a reissue label, it had signed a number of newer acts over the years. Today, we feature one of the biggest records on the Sun imprint – Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Perkins had two influences for the song. The first came in the fall of 1955 when Johnny Cash told Perkins about an American airman in Germany who called his regulation footwear as “blue suede shoes.” Cash encouraged Perkins to write a song about the shoes. In December 1955, Perkins was playing at a dance and he heard a young man chide his date not to “step on his suedes” – they were blue suede shoes. Perkins was now inspired to write the song.

Released in December 1955, “Blue Suede Shoes” was able to run up the pop charts and R&B charts to the #2 positions on both and took the #1 slot on the country charts in early 1956. The song was recorded by a number of other artists, but most notably by Elvis who took it to #20 in the fall of 1956.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Uriah Heep: The Wizard

Probably an example of the briefest tenure in any well known band would happen to be the short-lived tenure of Mark Clarke in Uriah Heep. His only output with the band was one song – “The Wizard.” Not only did he co-write the tune with Ken Hensley, he played bass and sang on the cut. This was the only song Clarke did with the band.

Released worldwide as a single from their 1972 “Demons & Wizards” album, this signature song from the band failed to chart in the UK and the US but did so in other European countries. The production uses an interesting reverb technique and I am not sure how they did this in 1972, other than they ran the wet signal through another tape deck and sped it up at the appropriate times.  Ken Hensley's organ parts with overdrive almost sound like a harmonica in the background.

“The Wizard” was played song was played in a dropped “C” tuning on the guitar (C-G-C-F-A-D) which gives it a very low texture. Now you know.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Van Morrison: Crazy Love

My favorite Van Morrison album is the classic “Moondance” from 1970. It spawned some great songs including the title cut, “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic,” and today’s Friday Flipside – “Crazy Love.” While all of the songs were popular on album radio, none were released as singles during the album’s original run; however, Warner Brothers finally released “Moondance” as a single seven years after the fact. This later release failed to generate much interest as it only peaked at #92 – although it is the best song on the album in my opinion.

“Crazy Love” was the “B” side to “Come Running” the original single from the album. Although “Come Running” barely made it to the Top 40 (at #39 no less), it failed to solidify a solid pop radio base for the album. That’s where album radio saved the day and all of the songs I mentioned in the second sentence helped propel the album to the #29th spot. Three million copies of “Moondance” were sold and earned it a triple platinum certification in the US.

It was Van Morrison’s only multi-platinum album – let’s back up, it was Morrison’s only album to sell at least a million copies in the US and have platinum status at any level. Half a dozen of Van’s other albums sold 500 thousand copies or more for RIAA gold certification. To paraphrase a commercial, I don’t listen to Van Morrison very often, but when I do, I listen to “Moondance.” Stay entertained my friend.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ben E. King: Stand By Me

It’s time for our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats with a single that was released twice in the US – once in 1961 and then again in 1986. Unusual for a repeat, the two issues both made it to the Top 10. It’s original release charted at #4 on the Hot 100 and at #1 on the R&B chart. When the song was included as the theme song for the movie “Stand by Me,” the second issue of the single charted at #9.

Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” was originally written for The Drifters, but they decided against recording it – so King recorded it himself. If you notice the two singles, the songwriting credits are different. The 1961 release was credited to King and Elmo Glick. On the later release, King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller were listed as songwriters. Leiber and Stoller were also the producers of the record.

So, who was Ben E. King’s songwriting partner(s)? Was it Elmo Glick or Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller? Well, the answer is “yes,” or both or Elmo Glick was actually a pseudonym for Leiber and Stoller – one of the top songwriting teams in the late 50s and early 60s. Recorded over 400 times including Top 40 hit versions by Spyder Turner (#3), John Lennon (#20), and Mickey Gilley (#22), “Stand by Me” earned King, Leiber, and Stoller a ton of royalties over the year – despite whose name was on the label for writing the tune.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Buddy Miller: Gasoline and Matches

Back in 2005, I discovered a guitarist named Buddy Miller. He is probably one of the best known secrets of the music business – but has played with everybody. Today’s Wooden Wednesday’s selection joins Miller’s acoustic guitar with three talented ladies: Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and Shawn Colvin. They are officially called Three Girls and their Buddy and the song is “Gasoline and Matches.”

Griffin joins Miller on lead vocals while she plays a dumbek with brushes. Emmylou Harris is the least active on this cut by only playing the shaker. Shawn Colvin brings up the bottom end by playing a Danelectro baritone guitar. Buddy calls it a bass and it is similar to a six string bass that Fender designed in the 60s called the Bass VI. The difference between the two instruments is generally tuning and sometimes scale.

The baritone guitar is often played a fourth lower (B-E-A-D-F#-B) than a guitar but some tune it a fifth lower (A-D-G-C-E-A) and occasionally in a C based tuning as (C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C). The Bass VI is tuned one octave lower than a guitar, but has thinner strings than a typical four string bass guitar. While often times the two instruments are indistinguishable by scale length, a Bass VI typically is about 30 inches from bridge to nut while a baritone guitar can run from 27 to 30 inches. A guitar’s scale is roughly 25 inches by comparison.

A longer scale baritone guitar could be tuned like a Bass VI – which may be what Shawn Colvin is doing on this tune. Typical to many recordings using a baritone guitar or a Bass VI, she has a slight bit of tremolo on her amp.

“Gasoline and Matches” was written by Buddy and his wife Julie Miller and first appeared on their album “Written in Chalk.” The album was released in 2009 and it was the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Paul Gilbert: Bach Partita in Dm

Paul Gilbert is probably the only 15-year old guitarist to be featured in Guitar Player magazine. That was some time ago and Gilbert is currently 46, but is still wowing audiences and the media with his guitar prowess. GuitarOne rated Gilbert at #4 in the Top 10 of Guitar Shredders and he appears on the unranked Guitar World’s “50 Fastest Guitarist of All Time” list.

Today’s Tasty Licks Tuesday selection comes from Gilbert’s 2010 album “Fuzz Universe” and includes his take on J.S. Bach’s “Partita in Dm.” Many of the best guitarists in the world have been influenced by classical music and shredders like Gilbert share much in common with these composers of old. Crank it up.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Guster: Satellite

Yesterday, I saw the movie “Martian Child” with John Cusack. It was a wonderful and inspiring story about a widower who adopted a child who claimed he was from Mars as a coping mechanism. At one point in the story, Guster’s “Satellite” was featured and I immediately thought that it would be apropos for our Media Monday feature.

Released as a CD single in 2007 and played by alternative radio, the song failed to chart on any of Billboard’s music charts including the Modern Rock Tracks chart. I was drawn to the song as I love alternative rock. It has a sixties vibe with modern production techniques. It also has a tremendous lyrical hook, but alas it never made it the charts.

Live Acoustic Version

Recorded in 2012, the live acoustic version is simply beautiful. To play the keyboard parts, the band enlisted violinist Charlene Huang. This version also features April Guthrie on 'cello.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Byrds: Satisfied Mind

In late 1965, The Byrds released their second album “Turn! Turn! Turn!”  At the suggestion of bassist Chris Hillman, the band recorded “Satisfied Mind.” The official title of the song was “A Satisfied Mind” and had been a number one country hit for Porter Wagoner in 1955. The song was also covered by other artists during the same period.

Red and Betty Foley peaked at #3 on the country charts and Jean Shepard charted at #4 on the same chart. Ella Fitzgerald was able to cross the record over to the pop charts where her single charted on the music sales charts at #25. Over the years, many artists released the song including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe, Jeff Buckley, Tim Hardin, and others.

“Satisfied Mind” was an early excursion for The Byrds into the realm of country music that was four albums previous to their landmark “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album in 1968. Gene Clark played the harmonica on this cut. The vocals were handled by Clark, Jim “Roger” McGuinn, and David Crosby.

“A Satisfied Mind” was written by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes and was loosely based on the advice that his mother gave him. The title came from Hayes’ father-in-law who had stated the richest man in the world was the one with a satisfied mind.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Autoharp: Small Mountain

I had a number of possibilities for this the final look at the use of an autoharp in music and I decided to go with a selection from the American folk-rock band Midlake. From their 2010 album “The Courage of Others,” you can hear a subtle usage of the autoharp on the song “Small Mountain.”

Midlake member Eric Pulido plays the autoharp on this cut as well as other instrumentation. If you listen to the quiet parts of the tune especially at the beginning and the end of “Small Mountain,” you can hear the autoharp. While it is used throughout the tune, it blends in very well and not very noticeable in relation to the guitars and other instruments.

Guitarist/vocalist Tim Smith who writes all of Midlake’s material had stated in Reverb that “Small Mountain,” which was written about a small hill where his family once live, is his favorite Midlake song. Unfortunately, Smith stated that the song is one that the audience doesn’t connect with when performed. This is no doubt due to the reflective nature of the arrangement. Good tune.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Autoharp: Just When I Needed You Most

Randy VanWarmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most” was intended to be the “B” side of “Gotta Get out of Here.” Apparently shortly after the single’s release, a disc jockey flipped the single and played “Just When I Needed You Most.” With it rising on the charts, Bearsville Records began promoting it as the “A” side. The song was cowritten by VanWarmer and Hot Chocolate’s Tony Wilson. It peaked in 1979 at #4.

The song may be the highest charting song to feature an autoharp. John Sebastian, who also played autoharp on two of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Top 10 hits, played on this single. VanWarmer credited Sebastian’s autoharp melodic chord solo as the hook that helped propel the record to the Top Five. The single also was certified gold; however, it was VanWarmer’s only hit.

At the beginning of the song, you can hear Sebastian playing chromatic runs on the autoharp. This is accomplished by not depressing any of the chord bars while strumming the instrument high to low.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Autoharp: Cherry Bomb

One of the four songs with autoharp to chart in the Top 10 was John Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb.” Released as a single from the 1987 album “Lonesome Jubilee,” “Cherry Bomb” charted at #8 on the Hot 100, #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and as #1 selection on the Mainstream Rock chart.

While the video of “Cherry Bomb” shows Mellencamp playing the autoharp on the song, it was actually played by Larry Crane. Crystal Taliefero sings the female vocal part on the tune.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Autoharp: Down by the Water

Loosely based on Leadbelly’s “Salty Dog Blues,” P.J. Harvey had a hit with her 1995 release of “Down by the Water.” The original version which uses primarily electronic instrumentation charted at #48 on the Hot 100 and at #2 on the Modern Hot Tracks.

In 2004, Harvey returned to the studio to do a live recording of several of her songs in an acoustic setting. Although she is accompanied by a drum machine and has a synth keyed with foot pedals, her primary accompaniment on this version of the song was the autoharp. This live in the studio recording was quite a departure from her original release of the tune.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Autoharp: Why Does The Wind

When British pop singer Tracey Thorn was recording her album “Love and its Opposite,” she chose a relatively low tech instrument, the electric autoharp, as an accent on her tune “Why Does the Wind.” Drowning in a sea of sequenced electronic keyboards and drums, the autoharp is a nice addition to this song. Thorn plays the instrument on this CD where it appears on several songs.

Thorn wrote “Why Does the Wind” as well as most of the songs that appear on the CD. The selections tell the story of life after 40. The CD was released in 2010 and only made it to #144 on the US album charts.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Autoharp: Do You Believe in Magic

I know of five Top 10 singles in the US to utilize the autoharp and John Sebastian played on four of these recordings. Three of the four were hit records for the Lovin’ Spoonful: “Do You Believe in Magic,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,”and “Summer in the City.”

The Lovin’ Spoonful released “Do You Believe in Magic” with Sebastian’s autoharp being the primary rhythm instrument. The single charted at #9 and may have possibly been the first rock 'n roll hit with the instrument. The song's chord progression was loosely based on the intro from Martha & the Vandella’s “(Love is Like a) Heatwave.”

TV Version

Here’s a live version from TV that shows Sebastian playing the autoharp.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Autoharp: Daniel and the Sacred Harp

Being the second week of the month, it’s time for our second week special and this week we look at the autoharp as the glue that holds this week together. An autoharp is a chorded zither. While other companies made chorded zithers, the name autoharp was once a trademark of the Oscar Schmidt Company. The bars on the autoharp allow certain strings to be dampened and other strings to ring clear giving a unique harp-like effect. The dampened strings create a percussive sound that adds to the instrument’s charm.

The autoharp can be played by laying it on your lap or holding it upright and strummed. Strumming can be done with a flat pick or with a thumb pick and finger picks. Some just strum the instruments to provide chord accompaniment, some play chord melodies, while others might finger pick the strings.

Our first song comes from the 1970 album “Stage Fright” by The Band. While it draws from a few biblical references, “Daniel and the Sacred Harp” is not a religious song. Written by Robbie Robertson and sung by Levon Helm and Richard Manuel, “Daniel and the Sacred Harp” includes some unique instrumentation – including the autoharp provided by Robertson.

You can definitely hear Robertson's autoharp on the song’s bridge, but I believe it is also the rhythm instrument during the rest of the song. As for the other members of The Band, Rick Danko plays fiddle in addition to bass. It also appears that Garth Hudson is playing a pump organ. Besides the autoharp, Robertson also provides the electric slide guitar.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Zephyr: Sail On

From Boulder, Colorado, the band Zephyr is often recognized as being one of the seminal bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s; however, they never were a household name. Usually two aspects of Zephyr’s potential are acknowledged – the guitar of Tommy Bolin and vocals of Candy Givens. Both rising stars, their lives were cut short far before their time.

Of the two, Tommy Bolin had the greater fame. When he left Zephyr in the early 70s, he was selected to be Domenic Troiano’s replacement in The James Gang. Troiano, who had been Joe Walsh’s replacement, was moving to The Guess Who to be a replacement for a series of guitarists who had successively moved into the lead guitar spot after Randy Bachman left the band.

Bolin later left The James Gang in 1975 to fill the shoes of Ritchie Blackmore who had exited Deep Purple. Within a year Bolin was dead from a drug overdose that occurred two months after he left Purple and his return to a solo career.

Vocalist Candy Givens also had great potential. You could compare her as a cross between Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, and possibly – just possibly, you might add a touch of Ann Wilson; although, Wilson came on the international scene much later than Givens and could have never influenced her. As good as Givens was as a vocalist, I can still hear pitch imperfections in her performances on this disc.

Sometimes she went sharp and other times she was flat – this is especially notable as she soared in the higher notes of her range. In other words, although a powerful singer, she was a little erratic at times. Later records indicate that practice had helped to eliminate some of these pitch irregularities.

In 1984, Givens met her untimely demise in a hot tub. She apparently was over relaxed from ingesting Quaaludes and slipped out of consciousness allowing her to drown.

Today’s Bubbling Under hit comes from the band’s 1969 debut album on ABC’s Command-Probe label. “Sail On” was cowritten by Bolin and Givens and gives you a taste of this influential, but hardly famous, rock band. “Sail On” was the album’s single, but it failed to chart. The album charted in the 40s in spring 1970.

While I've made much ado about Bolin and Candy Givens, they were not the only members of the band; and in totality, they all were great musicians.  Candy's husband at the time, David Givens, was Zephyr's primary songwriter and bassist.  Robbie Chamberlin handled the back beat. Keyboardist John Faris made an important contribution to “Sail On” with the organ. I can't swear to it, but it sounds like a Hammond to me. 

I received my copy of Zephyr’s self-titled album in 1972. At the time, I think I was put off by Candy Givens’ vocal calisthenics and I shelved the album at the time – this was before anyone had heard of Tommy Bolin outside of Zephyr. 

To be truthful, Probe Records, a subsidiary of Command Records, a subsidiary of Grand Award Records, a subsidiary of ABC may have placed the album out of the major promotional priorities of ABC and its other artists on more successful labels under their control.

Rediscovering the album recently allowed me to put the LP in perspective and it really does hold the test of time. I wouldn’t consider it a classic, but I would rank it a very important contribution to rock music as a whole. The fact that it has stayed in print over the years also speaks to its longevity. Rock on Zephyr.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Yes: Long Distance Runaround

Our Friday Flipside comes from the 1972 “Fragile” by Yes. The song proper was the “B” side to single featuring “Roundabout.” Album radio generally tracked the next song “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” with “Long Distance Runaround” as there is a natural segue of the two tunes.

It is said that Jon Anderson wrote the tune after becoming disillusioned with the Anglican Church. The song features the classic line-up of the band with Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe – guitar, bass by Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman playing keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums.

The single “Roundabout” was the band’s second to chart in the Top 40 and first to chart within the Top 20, as it peaked at #13. Other Top 40 singles for Yes include the following: “I’ve See All Good People: Your Move” at #40, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” at #1, “Leave It” at #24, “Love Will Find A Way” at #30, and “Rhythm of Love” at #40.

Album Version with The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)

The long version also includes “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” and was composed by Chris Squire. It was often used by the band to give Squire a vehicle for which to solo.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Elliott Smith: Independence Day

I thought I’d feature something a little different for Independence Day. In 1998, Dreamworks Records released the fourth album by Elliott Smith – his first solo release for a major label. Smith had already gained a reputation as an indy audience who layered his tracks with instrumentation and vocals – doing most of the performance himself. An for this 4th of July, we feature Smith's recording of "Independence Day."

The album whose working title was “Grand Mal” was released under the title of “XO.” I think what attracted me to the song “Independence Day” was his use of a Wurlitzer Electric piano (or a digital clone of the instrument). The drums are actually sequenced from a drum machine – but have a real feel to them.

While he had a troubled life and adulthood, Elliott channeled his experiences through his music. In fact, Elliott was not his real name. He was christened as Steven, but felt that the name “Steve” made him sound like a jock and “Steven” sounded too studious. He chose Elliott as his professional name and there are several theories why he select that particular moniker.

He died in 2003 of a stab wound which may or may not have been self inflicted. An official ruling of the nature of his death was never made and the case was not investigated further.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Trees: Geordie

I had never heard the folk-rock band Trees until recently and that was probably due to their two albums not being released in the United States. Both albums, “The Garden of Jane Delawney” and “On the Shore,” were issued on CBS in the UK in 1970.

There is an obvious comparison to Fairport Convention – a goal for which Trees had striven. Unfortunately, the band received the reputation of being somewhat of a poor man’s Fairport Convention – which was most unfortunate for the furtherance of their corporate career.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and guitarist Barry Clarke emulates Richard Thompson to a degree. He’s not RT, but he shows the influence he received from listening to and playing along with the recordings of this British guitar master. I hear early Richard all through his playing. 

Some are highly critical of vocalist Celia Humphris stating that she was no Sandy Denny or Judy Dyble (of Fairport Convention), Jacqui McShee (of Pentangle), or Maddy Prior (of Steeleye Span). Well, duh. There are not many who fill those shoes, but nonetheless, I find her vocals pleasant, expressive, and most importantly in tune.

Today, for our Wooden Wednesday selection, Trees presents their rendition of the traditional ballad “Geordie” from their second and final LP. The protagonist witnesses a lover crying over Geordie’s impending fate. It is a lament about a young man who is about to be hanged for stealing 16 of the royal deer and selling them in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Some versions of the song have the sale occurring in Bohenny – a town that has not been satisfactorily located. As with many folk songs that evolve through the process of oral tradition, there are numerous versions of the song including one that crossed the North Sea to Denmark.

It is a very nice but somber song and is perfect to listen to as one drifts off to sleep. I include both the original recording and the 2008 remix. I’m not sure if I am partial for either one – but if I were forced to chose, I would select the 1970 version as Humphris’ vocals are a little more out front in the mix.  Enjoy.

2008 Reissue Remix

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Johnny Smith: Walk Don't Run

Johnny Smith died on June 11 and not much fanfare occurred with is passing at nearly 91 years of age. I heard about it a week later and intended on doing a tribute for him, but failed to make this happen until now. Smith was a jazz guitarist whose most notable contribution to the music scene was the composition “Walk Don’t Run.” It will be the song for which he will always be remembered.

He recorded “Walk Don’t Run.” in 1954 which was five years prior to The Ventures’ having a #2 hit with their version. Five years later, The Ventures re-recorded the tune as Walk Don’t Run ’64 and it too was a Top 10 hit charting at #8. Smith’s version appeared on his “In A Sentimental Mood” album and featured Smith and Perry Lopez on guitars, Arnold Fishkin on bass, and Don Lamond on drums.

Growing up, I had heard The Ventures’ version of this classic and always thought it was their original song – not so – but sadly, they were not directly influenced by Smith’s recording. The Ventures heard Chet Atkins’ cover of the song and based their rendition on his arrangement.

I first learned about Johnny Smith during the spring of 1977. My Uncle Walt had moved back to Pennsylvania that year and I saw him a number of times when I was home on break from college. He was very generous to me giving me books for school, a camera, and two multi-disc jazz compilation albums.

He was aware that I was doing a jazz program every week at WKCC radio and he helped it along by giving me these albums that chronicled the history of jazz from the 20s to the 60s. One of the album sets had the Johnny Smith Quartet’s version of “Walk Don’t Run.” I had never heard it before and it became a favorite of mine that I played frequently on my show.

Since that time, I hadn’t heard it, but when I heard that he passed, I played it again. It brought back the magic of that first listen. My wife, who was a big fan of The Ventures’ recording of “Walk Don’t Run” loved it as well. She never knew of any version other than The Ventures.

Ironically, 35 years later I’m back in the same building where the radio station was once housed. It is long gone, but if you walk down the hallway on a Wednesday night between 10 and 11 PM, you might here the strains of Mose Allison, Stan Getz, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, and Johnny Smith.

While his was not a household name, he was a legend – a guitar legend that three guitar companies (Guild, Gibson, and Heritage) build and market Johnny Smith signature models. Play on Johnny – we’ll miss you, but we have the discs to keep the memory alive.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Guess Who: Albert Flasher

To help our neighbors to the north celebrate Canada Day, I thought I might include a little Canadian rock ‘n roll courtesy of The Guess Who. Recorded as a non-album single, “Albert Flasher” was originally intended to be the “B” side of “Broken.”  Radio flipped this boogie-woogie influenced tune in the key of “G” and “Albert Flasher” was chosen instead as the “plug” side of the single.

According to Richard Crouse in Who Wrote the Book of Love? The Stories Behind the Hits – from Chuck Berry to Chumbawamba, Burton Cummings took the name “Albert Flasher” from the “alert flasher” lamp at a radio station where he was being interviewed.  “Alert flasher?” Maybe that's what they call them in Canada - we call them "on-air lights" in the US.  The single peaked at #29 in the US and as expected did better in Canada at #13.

Since the song was featured in the movie “Almost Famous” but not on the soundtrack, it fits our Media Monday category. The single was recorded after Randy Bachman left The Guess Who to form Brave Belt – an early incarnation of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The guitar parts were supplied by Bachman’s replacements Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw.