Saturday, November 30, 2013

Janus Records: Cheer

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

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

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Janus Records: Midnight Sun

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Janus Records: Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Janus Records: Another Night

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Janus Records: She Loves To Be In Love

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Janus Records: Year Of The Cat

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Janus Records: Baby Take Me In Your Arms

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Byrds: He Was A Friend of Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Joe Cocker: Feeling Alright

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alison Krauss: Can't Find My Way Home

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Led Zeppelin III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ben Howard: Oats In The Water

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

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

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

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

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

Live Version from the BBC

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

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not My Buddy: Well . . . . All Right

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not My Buddy: Not Fade Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Not My Buddy: True Love Ways

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not My Buddy: Tell Me How

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Not My Buddy: It's So Easy

Buddy Holly only had two Top 5 hits, “That’ll Be The Day” with the Crickets at #1 and his solo “Peggy Sue” which peaked at #2. The only other Top 5 Holly related record was Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “It’s So Easy.” Released in 1977 from her “Simple Dreams” album, “It’s So Easy” was Ronstadt’s second Buddy Holly hit. Her 1976 version of “That’ll Be The Day” charted at #11 – not bad for a couple of songs’ second lives.

While The Crickets released “It’s So Easy” as a single in 1958 and supported the record with a performance on American Bandstand, their version failed to chart. The song is credited to Holly and his producer/manager Norman Petty. Petty’s contribution to Holly’s songs where he received writing credit has always been suspect. A case in point is “That’ll Be The Day.” Nearly a year before meeting Petty, Holly recorded the song for Decca; however, Petty was credited on the hit version of the song by The Crickets as a writing collaborator along with Jerry Allison and Holly.

On the original Decca recording, only Allison and Holly are credited as writers. It was not unusual for producers, managers, and artists to demand payment in kind via credit and in the process picking up a percentage of the songwriting royalties.

The arrangement may have been conditional upon his contract with Petty, Holly may have been ignorant of the nebulous world of song royalties, or it may be a situation of Holly willing to take a smaller percentage over something that would bring him greater fame and money in the long run. In other words, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

In addition, Petty would also cash in on a share of the publishing royalties; the song was originally published by NorVaJak music – a company owned by Norman Petty (Nor), Violet Ann Petty (Va), and Jack Vaughn (Jak) who were members of the Norman Petty Trio. Paul McCartney’s MPL Communications purchased NorVaJak’s entire catalog of songs in 1975.

Since that time, McCartney has been earning the publishing royalties on many, if not all, of Holly’s songs including “It’s So Easy” and “That’ll Be The Day.” This was the case when Ronstadt recorded the songs and McCartney received mechanical royalties from the sale of the albums, cassettes, and singles. He also earned performance royalties for when Ronstadt's version played on radio and TV and when she sang it in concert. In other words, Sir Paul’s investment was a sound one – and he is still earning royalties from these recordings.

As for Ronstadt’s version, “It’s So Easy” and “Simple Dreams’” other hit single, Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” helped propel the album to the number one slot for five weeks. At the time, Ronstadt was the first artist to have two simultaneous Top 5 records since The Beatles and the first female vocalist to perform this feat. And now you know.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Not My Buddy: Blue Days, Black Nights

Released as Buddy Holly’s first single in April 1956, “Blue Days, Black Nights” was not a Buddy Holly composition; however, he was the first to record this Ben Hall song – and thus would be the artist normally associated with this rockabilly classic. Hall would not release his own version of “Blue Days, Black Nights” until 1960 when he and his Circle 4 Ramblers collaborated on a country version of the song complete with steel guitar and his characteristic nasally vocals.

Personally, I prefer Holly’s version, but the original sold less than 20,000 units. Interestingly, a near mint single copy of “Blue Days, Black Nights” has been valued at $500+, while a near mint copy of the pink label promo single fetches over $600. Because of the single’s value, both versions have been often bootlegged and passed off as original releases.

“Blue Days, Black Nights” was one of two singles released by Holly on Decca in 1956 that failed to chart; therefore, Decca shelved the project which also included a nascent and slower version of “That’ll be the Day.” Once The Crickets and Buddy Holly started having hit records on Decca’s own subsidiaries of Brunswick and Coral, Decca finally released an album of the 1956 sessions recorded at Owen Bradley’s studios in Nashville.

To capitalize on The Crickets’ 1957 number one release of “That’ll Be the Day,” Decca used that as the album’s title. This 1958 LP was repackaged twice on Vocalion Records, another Decca (MCA) subsidiary, as “The Great Buddy Holly” and “Good Rockin’.” I have both, but do not own the original Decca release. Three subsequent singles were released from the Decca sessions; however, they proved as lackluster in chart performance as did Buddy’s first single:  “Blue Days, Black Nights.”

By 1957, fellow Texan Bob Luman and the Shadows took a cue from Buddy Holly and recorded a similar version of “Blue Days, Black Nights” for Imperial Records. For the Luman recording, James Burton, who would later play guitar for Ricky Nelson, recreated a sound similar to Sonny Curtis’ chord leads from the original. Unfortunately, Imperial was unable to generate any interest in Luman after three single releases, and so the other recordings from these sessions were shelved. Are we seeing a pattern here?

In 1988, Bear Family Records was able to get its paws on the Imperial recordings and released an LP entitled “Wild Eyed Woman.” With this long overdue album of Luman material from the 50s, the public got its first taste of Luman’s take on Holly’s rendition of Ben Hall’s song “Blue Days, Black Nights.” Sold American, whew!

Bear Family has reissued “Blue Days, Black Nights” on several compilations of Luman material. Unlike the original, Luman’s version features a rockin’ piano. And for the record, I like Luman’s version better than Ben Hall’s. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever like Hall’s release.

Luman, who recorded for more labels than Carter’s had Little Liver Pills, finally had one top 10 pop hit in 1960 and one top 10 country hit along with several mid-charting country singles in the early 70s. This rockabilly legend never achieved the fame that his talent deserved. In 1978, Luman died from pneumonia at age 41.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not My Buddy: Words of Love

It’s the second week of the month and I decided to do my focus on songs by Buddy Holly that were recorded by others. Some of these, the mainstream population will recognize – while others may only be known by diehard fans of Buddy Holly or the cover artists. I have a wide gap of musical styles from which I will choose this week, so let’s get rolling.

Although released as a single in 1957 under Buddy’s own name on Coral Records, “Words of Love” was a wonderful tune, but a colossal failure on the charts. It never made it into the Hot 100 or onto the UK charts; however, some lads in Liverpool, England had a copy of the song and began performing it during their live shows.

When The Beatles originally performed the song, John Lennon and George Harrison sang the duet – which produced a sound similar to Buddy Holly’s double tracked vocals on the original. When The Beatles eventually recorded the song in 1964 for their “Beatles for Sale” LP, it was John and Paul McCartney that sang the vocal duet. In the US, the song appeared on “Beatles VI.”

The guitar on the original appears to be double tracked as well, as the credits only list Buddy Holly on guitar and vocals, Joe Maudlin on bass, and Jerry Allison on drums. George Harrison’s 12-string guitar mimicked Holly’s original two guitar sound. Although Allison played drums on the Holly version, Ringo hand slapped a packing case which gave it the feel of Allison’s percussion on Holly’s “Everday.” On that number, Allison slapped his lap for the sound.

Buddy’s first hit, “That’ll Be the Day,” was recorded under The Cricket’s moniker on the Brunswick label and the record buying public may have not yet associated Buddy Holly on Coral as being the lead vocalist for The Crickets. This may explain why the follow-up to a #1 record completely failed to chart – a highly unusual occurrence in the music business. The momentum of the previous hit should have had some influence on its successor.

Although I was initially familiar with Holly’s version of the song, I got to know The Beatles’ take on the tune when in 1971 I purchased a copy of the German import of “Beatles for Sale” on the Odeon label. Our local National Record Mart in North Versailles, PA’s Eastland Shopping Center had four German import Beatles’ releases and I purchased all four that spring. By 1973, I finally found a copy of the original mono mix of “Beatles VI” on the black Capital label in a Cox’s Department store in McKeesport, PA. Great stuff from the Fab 4.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Spencer Davis Group: Can't Get Enough of It

Here it ‘tis – another Friday – the day we celebrate the other side of the record with our Friday Flipside selection. Today’s feature is one that, unless you’ve owned the single, you’ve probably never heard The Spencer Davis Group’s “Can’t Get Enough of It.”

This particular number was the “B” side of “I’m A Man” from January 1967. In addition to “I’m A Man” being later covered by Chicago, The Spencer Davis Group charted at the #10 spot in the US with the tune. I don’t believe either side was released on an album at the time – a practice that was fairly common in Britain, but did not happen too often in the US with popular artists that came from across the pond.

The US labels tended to milk the record buying product for all they were worth. First, they had less tracks on an album (12 to the Brit’s 14), and then the surplus tracks and the singles were generally packaged into a new album that was only available in North America. Compare the US and UK Beatles albums and you’ll see what I mean.

Lead singer and keyboardist Steve Winwood, one the most talented men in the business, shines on this number. Not only is Winwood gifted, but it is truly amazing that he was not quite 19 years of age when this cut was released – he always sounded like he was much older and the depth of his playing drew from a well far deeper than his years.

“Can’t Get Enough of It” was cowritten by Winwood and producer Jimmy Miller. It also was one of the last cuts to feature Steve and his brother Muff Winwood. Both left the band with Steve going on to form Traffic and Muff transitioning to the role of Island Records’ A&R Director.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Vanilla Fudge: You Keep Me Hangin' On

It is said that Vanilla Fudge’s cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” was recorded in one take; however, it took two times on the charts for their version to become a hit in its own right. A 2:50 edit of a seven minute album cut was originally released in June 1967 and immediately stalled at #67.

Believing in the potential of the band, ATCO Records re-released the single in June 1968 and the second time around it peaked at #6. The first release titled the song as "You Keep Me Hanging On" while the second release correctly rendered the title with the dropped "G."

While it seems unusual for a psychedelic band like Vanilla Fudge would record this tune as their first single, but drummer Carmine Appice explains the rationale:

In 1966, when I joined the band, there was a thing going around the New York area and Long Island that was basically slowing songs down, making production numbers out of them, and putting emotion into them . . . We were all looking for songs that were hits and could be slowed down with emotion put into them. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” lyrically was a hurtin’ kind of song, and when The Supremes did it, it was like a happy song. We tried to slow down the song and put the emotion the song should have into it with the hurtin’ kind of feeling the song should have [had].

The Supremes released their version in October 1966 and it skyrocketed up both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts to the top position on both. Vanilla Fudge’s first release of the single was probably positioned too close to The Supremes’ version for it to be taken seriously.

By 1968, enough time had elapsed and Vanilla Fudge’s heavy sound was much more palatable to the record buying public. The tune was authored by Motown staff writers Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland who composed numerous hit records for Barry Gordy’s enterprise.

Album Version

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fairport Convention: Percy's Song

I must apologize for being gone for about 10 days, but I needed a little vacation from writing to take care of other aspects of my life. In the last few days, I’ve been familiarizing myself with some Fairport Convention albums that I bought late in my vinyl buying days and procured both “Unhalfbricking” and “Full House” used at the time.

I think the reason for my not purchasing these albums is that they were well represented on the two disc set “History of Fairport Convention” that I purchased as a British import 40 years ago during the summer of 1973. While I had continued to buy newer Fairport releases, I didn’t add these two LPs to my collection until much later. The result is that I don’t know these two albums as well as I do others including some that are not as memorable but good in their own right.

As for “Unhalfbricking,” it was released in the US with a different cover than the UK version and I believe I have both versions in my collection – but I can’t swear to it. I know I at least have the American release on A&M with the silly elephant cover. The original UK version of the album had Fairport in a garden with Sandy Denny’s parents in the foreground. The album’s strange name was a concoction of Denny’s via a word game that the band played on the way to gigs.

“Unhalfbricking” features the band’s take on three Bob Dylan tunes that had not yet appeared on any of his officially released albums: “Million Dollar Bash, “Si Tu Dois Partir,” and “Percy’s Song.” “Si Tu Dois Partir” was a French language version of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and the Liverpool Five and Manfred Mann both released the English versions of the song in 1965.

It is said that Dylan’s UK publisher had a listening party of the recently recorded but unreleased “Basement Tapes” and the band chose those three songs to record. I tend to believe it may have been Dylan’s management company, as all three songs are credited to different publishers and “Million Dollar Bash” was the only one from the “Basement Tapes” sessions.

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” was originally recorded during Dylan’s “Bringing it Back Home” album in 1965. “Percy’s Song” was older and had been omitted from Dylan’s 1963 “The Times They Are A-Changin’” LP. The band also recorded a fourth Dylan tune, “Dear Landlord,” which did not make it to the vinyl release, but was later added to the CD version as an extra cut along with “Ballad of Easy Rider.”

“Percy’s Song” was the first song recorded for “Unhalfbricking” and includes Iain Matthews on back-up vocals. It was the only song on the album with which he appeared just prior to his leaving the band. In many ways, “Unhalfbricking” was an album of transitions for Fairport Convention.

Matthews, who had been with the group from the first album, left during the sessions. Drummer Martin Lamble, another original member, was killed in a tragic accident while the band was returning from a gig. Fairport was beginning to move into an electric folk direction with the recording of “A Sailor’s Life,” and Dave Swarbrick would contribute his fiddle and mandolin on four cuts.

Swarb would become a full-fledged member of Fairport Convention with the release of the next album: “Liege and Lief,” as would drummer Dave Mattacks whose only contribution to “Unhalfbricking” was playing on the bonus track “Ballad of Easy Rider.”

In relation to the crash that killed Lamble and Richard Thompson’s girlfriend, “Percy’s Song’s” seventh verse was strangely prophetic:

A crash on the highway
Flew the car to a field
Turn, turn, turn again
There was four persons killed
And he was at the wheel
Turn, turn to the rain
And the wind

Although only two people died, others in the van were badly injured and the accident would have a devastating effect upon Fairport.

From a recording standpoint, “Percy’s Song” starts as an a cappella number and crests and recedes with instrumentation. The vocals are joined successively in order by an acoustic guitar, bass and drums, electric dulcimer, electric guitars, and organ. Toward the song’s end, the instrumentation diminishes to an acoustic guitar, dulcimer, bass, and drums.

Then again the song begins to build with the addition of electric guitars and finally the organ reappears. At the fade, all that is heard is an acoustic guitar, dulcimer, and organ – sweet. It really is a nice arrangement and shows what creative production can do. My goodness, Joe Boyd was a genius in the studio. I hope you enjoy this classic track from 1969 for our Wooden Music Wednesday.