Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mocking Byrds: Feel A Whole Lot Better

Our final selection in our Mocking Byrds Second Week Special evokes the spirit of The Byrds’ Gene Clark with a 1978 cover of his signature tune, “Feel A Whole Lot Better.” While many artists have recorded “Feel A Whole Lot Better,” I prefer the rendition of the tune by the Flamin’ Groovies.

The Byrds recorded Gene Clark’s composition on their debut album: “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Although the song was the “B” side to the band’s second single “All I Really Want to Do.” The “A” side just made it into the Top 40 at the #40 slot and even “Feel A Whole Lot Better” made a splash at #103.

Columbia issued both sides as separate promo singles. Clark later admitted that he borrowed the riff from The Searcher’s “Needles and Pins.” When you think of it, you can hear the influence of the former tune.

The Flamin’ Groovies reincarnate The Byrds’ spirit and even have a jangly 12-string electric. Released on their 1978 LP, “Now,” “Feel A Whole Lot Better” appeared solely as an album cut. The great Dave Edmunds produced this record.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mocking Byrds: Hickory Wind

If you would scan the names of the members of The Byrds, you might conclude that the band had two Clark(e)s (Gene Clark & Michael Clarke), two Parsons (Gram & Gene), and two McGuinns (Jim & Roger). None of these people were related to one another except for the two McGuinns who were actually one and the same person. Of those in our list, we turn our eyes (and our ears) to one: Gram Parsons.

Gram Parsons was influential in persuading his fellow Byrds to tackle a complete country album instead of McGuinn’s original intent to do an LP of 20th century American music. He even convinced the band to record the album in Nashville.

The result was the seminal recording of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” The album would help shape the sound of The Byrds and led Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons to form The Flying Burrito Brothers. The “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” lineup featuring another new member, Kevin Kelley on drums, lasted only a brief five weeks in 1968.

Probably considered Gram Parsons’ signature song, “Hickory Wind” was penned by Parsons and his former band mate Bob Buchanan. There has been some controversy considering the authorship of the song, as South Carolinian Sylvia Sammons claimed to have penned “Hickory Wind.” Although a cash settlement was reached with Sammons by the song’s publisher in 1969, many believe that it was an authentic Parsons/Buchanan composition.

While many artists have recorded “Hickory Wind,” one of the earliest covers of the tune was recorded in 1969 by Joan Baez. Because Baez’s then husband, David Harris, was going to be sentenced for draft evasion, she recorded an album of country music as her gift to him. Because Harris was a fan of country music, Baez titled the LP as “David’s Album.”

Interesting enough, Baez’s foray into country music did better on the charts than The Byrds despite their contract with a major record label. While others have recorded this tune, Joan’s low voice is stronger than most others who attempted “Hickory Wind” including Parson’s close friend Emmylou Harris. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mocking Byrds: Have You Seen Her Face

During 1966, The Byrds were pared down to four members with the exodus of Gene Clark during the “Fifth Dimension” sessions. With Clark gone, bassist Chris Hillman was elevated to songwriter and vocalist in the band. Although Hillman had writing credits on arrangements and compositions that included all of The Byrds, it was the first time he participated as a full-fledged writer.

Released in 1967, “Younger than Yesterday” included four Hillman compositions and his collaboration with Roger McGuinn on “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” Hillman was responsible for nearly half of the album as he is credited with five of its 11 tunes.

Up until last night, I had planned to feature Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on “So You Want to be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” but discovered that I had already did this back in 2010. So I scrambled to find a replacement of this often recorded Byrds’ tune.

Unfortunately, none passed muster. Some versions of “So You Want to be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” had excellent instrumentation, but the vocals were lacking. Others had the vocal chops down, but the instrumental performance was dismal. After listening to a dozen covers, I decided to find another Chris Hillman vehicle.

Released as the third single from “Younger than Yesterday,” Chris Hillman captured the spirit of The Beatles in his song “Have You Seen Her Face.” Actually, it sounds more like the tunes The Beatles gave Peter and Gordon to record. It even has a country inspired lead played on a Gretsch Country Gentleman by Roger McGuinn – similar what George Harrison might have done on this tune. Unfortunately, the original “Have You Seen Her Face” only made it to #74 on the Hot 100.

As for a cover, I’ve decided to move outside the box and feature a Chris Hillman cover of a Chris Hillman song. It is actually a 2010 live recording of Hillman and Herb Pedersen “At Edwards Barn.” Both Hillman and Pedersen had previously worked together in the Desert Rose Band. During the intro, Chris mentions his metamorphosis as a songwriter and vocalist in one of the premier bands of the ‘60s – The Byrds. For now though, here’s a very nice acoustic rendition of “Have You Seen Her Face.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mocking Byrds: Eight Miles High

It’s day four of our Second Week Feature that I call “Mocking Byrds,” as it is a weeklong tribute to songs of The Byrds recorded by other artists. One of the better known singles by The Byrds, it was their only composition to chart in the Top 20 and it peaked at #14 during the spring of 1966. Only two other songs by The Byrds charted higher and were both #1 hits: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” penned by Bob Dylan, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” – Pete Seeger’s musical interpretation of Ecclesiastes’ third chapter.

Written primarily by Gene Clark, but aided by David Crosby and Roger McGuinn, “Eight Miles High” was influenced by the band’s trip to London in 1965. The song is stellar in that it captures the spirit of Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane – two artists the band was listening while on tour during 1965. The original version appears on their third LP: “Fifth Dimension.”

Today’s cover comes from the husband and wife duo – The Kennedys, who prior to their marriage, were part of Nanci Griffith’s band in 1990s. This version comes from their 2006 album “Songs of the Open Road” and features Maura and Pete using all manner of acoustic and electric guitars and a Rogue electric sitar to bring the “raga rock” sound to fruition.

While The Byrds’ version is my favorite and Golden Earring’s rendition is my second favorite, The Kennedy’s interpretation comes in as a close third. In my book, that’s a pretty good place to be. Pete and Maura Kennedy also perform with The Strangelings and I have included that band’s versions of their renditions of Fairport Convention’s “Matty Groves” and Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Episode 1500: Mocking Byrds: Dolphin's Smile

Today we celebrate Reading Between the Grooves 1500th post. The timing of this auspicious occasion, however, is right in the middle of our Second Week Special – this month it’s “Mocking Byrds” – a look at covers of songs by The Byrds. We’ll deal with this first and then talk about the stats for this 1500th post.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that my affinity towards The Byrds goes back to 1966 with my first purchase of a 45 RPM single by the band. Later in the early 70s, they were the subject of my first cassette tape purchase. That album was “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.” This collection saw great personnel changes of the original members of The Byrds.

All five original members are believed to be present on this album, but only two, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, were constants. There was a great deal of tension regarding the recording of the album, but despite this, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” is often cited as a critical success for the band and it is considered more cohesive in style even though the band at the time was anything but cohesive. For more, see a former post regarding this album that is still one of my favorites by The Byrds.

For today’s feature, we dip into the album’s depths for a little known tune named “Dolphin’s Smile.” It was written by David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, and Chris Hillman. If you listen to the outtakes of this recording, there was quite a bit of angst exhibited towards Michael Clarke on the recording of “Dolphin’s Smile.” In a word, he was not getting it and it took at least 15 takes for him to capture the spirit that the other three members and the engineer wanted.

For today’s cover, we provide a live version by Blue Coupe at Don O’Dell’s Legends Studio in Palmer, Massachusetts. Blue Coupe features three multi-instrumentalists that are no strangers to the rock music scene. For this number, Dennis Dunaway, formerly of Alice Cooper, is on bass and he is joined by the two Bouchard brothers who had been members of Blue Öyster Cult during their heyday.

Albert Bouchard, who was BÖC’s drummer, is playing the six-string acoustic and Joe Bouchard, BÖC’s bassist, is on the 12-string acoustic. All three as well as a couple of female back-up vocalists do an amazing job capturing the spirit of The Byrds’ original sans the sound effects, Moog synthesizer, and of course drums. The name Blue Coupe is an amalgamation of their former bands’ names: Blue Öyster Cult and Alice Cooper. Good stuff for our “Mocking Byrds” feature.


RBTG’s 1,500th Post Retrospect

Like I had reported with every other 100th post anniversary, I took a look backward on how we are doing visitor wise. I began this blog on September 26, 2009, but did not start monitoring the visits until October 16, 2009. Currently, we have 87 declared followers of the blog – up from 76 in February 2014. There are many others who have visited frequently without declaring themselves as followers. As noted with our 1400th post, Google+ remains a major source of new visitors.

The cumulative statistics for the blog are listed below:

Unique Visitors155,273
Times Visited174,399
Number of Pages Viewed249,046
People Visiting 200+ Times2,819
People Visiting 101-200 Times1,364
People Visiting 51-100 Times1,210
People Visiting 26-50 Times1,088
Number of Visitor Countries Represented186

The Top Ten Visitor Countries

Since our 1,400th post, four new countries were added to the list: two from the Caribbean (Caribbean Netherlands and the British Virgin Islands), one from Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan), and one from Africa (Mali). The Top 10 countries remain the same; however, former seventh position Australia knocked Italy out of the sixth position.

1United States84,957
2United Kingdom14,668

As always, I want to take this time to thank all of you for your support of this site and the encouragement to keep going forward. Thanks again for Reading between the Grooves.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mocking Byrds: Full Circle

Our next selection during our “Mocking Byrds” Second Week Feature looks at Dan Fogelberg’s rendition of a tune that was released by The Byrds in 1973. Although Gene Clark recorded “Full Circle Song” as a solo artist first in 1972, The Byrds’ recording is better known.  It is from their original lineup reunion album titled simply “Byrds.” Last October, I discussed their release, and you can check out that post for more detailed info on the song.

In 2003, Dan Fogelberg plied his craft on “Full Circle” and used it as the title cut for his CD – an album that unfortunately didn’t chart. Even though it failed to garner widespread exposure, Fogelberg did an excellent job on his rendition of this Gene Clark composition.

While I like The Byrds’ arrangement (especially Chris Hillman’s mandolin) better, I prefer Dan Fogelberg’s vocals over Gene Clark’s. In addition, the production on Fogelberg’s rendition is much fuller, but this may be a result of advances in recording technology since the early 70s.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mocking Byrds: Ballad of Easy Rider

Since last November, I’ve been planning a second week special on remakes of songs by The Byrds. At that time I picked out four tunes and immediately forgot about it until last week when I selected three additional tunes for inclusion. You won’t be hearing covers of some of their bigger hits, as many were written by others like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.

I call this week’s feature “Mocking Byrds,” and we’ll be looking at a number of Byrds’ tunes that were composed by members of the band and covered by other artists. Some of The Byrds’ originals are better known than others, but I’ve endeavored to find some of the best covers of some classic Byrds’ cuts.

I have a bit of closeness to The Byrds, as the first 45 that I purchased was their “Mr. Spaceman” single. In addition, the first commercially recorded cassette tape I bought was “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.” With my history with loving their recordings, it was easy to come up with this week’s feature.

Our first song is the 1969 recording of the “Ballad of Easy Rider” by Fairport Convention. While the song was recorded during the band’s “Liege and Lief” sessions and it includes the band’s lineup at the time except for Dave Swarbrick. Although the song was the band’s encore number at the time, the recording was out of character with the rest of “Liege and Lief’s” traditional folk character, and so it was shelved.

Although it features Sandy Denny on vocals, it first showed up on guitarist Richard Thompson’s 1976 compilation album, “(guitar, vocal).” It has also appeared on a number of other compilations, as well as a being a bonus track on the band’s “Unhalfbricking” CD and on their “Liege and Lief” boxed set.

Of all of covers of material by The Byrds that I’m featuring, I like this one better than the Byrds’ 1969 release. It’s different than either the solo version by Roger McGuinn on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack and the single release and title cut from The Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider” album.

Not only is Fairport’s version slower and more soulful, it is in a different time signature. I believe McGuinn wrote the tune in either 2/2 or 2/4 time, but I can’t find any documentation on its specific time signature.

The Byrds’ version is much faster than McGuinn’s solo version on the movie soundtrack. That version also features former Byrd Gene Clark on harmonica. Fairport’s version is a waltz in ¾ time. It’s turnabout for The Byrds, as they were known to change the time signatures of Dylan’s tunes that they recorded.

The writing of the “Ballad of Easy Rider” by McGuinn has an interesting twist. Peter Fonda asked Bob Dylan to write the theme for the movie, but Dylan wouldn’t have any part of it. What he did though is write down the lyrics, “The river flows; it flows to the sea. Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be. Flow, river, flow" on a napkin. He then handed it to Fonda and said, in essence, “Take this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it.”

McGuinn took the lyrical fragment and constructed the “Ballad of Easy Rider.” Although Dylan’s name appeared alongside McGuinn’s as the author in the movie’s credits, he asked that it be removed and in essence disavowed any connection to the song. McGuinn theorized that Dylan didn’t like the movie and didn’t want his name associated with it.

I hope you like Fairport’s recording of this number. Although I typically prefer The Byrds’ recordings of their tunes, I like this rendition better.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Batdorf & Rodney: Home Again

Although John Batdorf and Mark Rodney went to the same Los Angeles high school, they didn’t meet until they were both living in Las Vegas. Mark’s brother Jeff happened upon John playing at the UNLV coffee house and reported back to his brother that Batdorf “sings really high like a girl and plays really cool original music.” Mark dropped by the next evening and after listening to a set asked to sit in on guitar. Thus began the relationship known as Batdorf & Rodney.

Moving back to LA, they began playing and touring together and had an opportunity record their first of their three albums. None of these albums set the world on fire, and they never received more than one deal with each of the three companies: Atlantic, Asylum, and Arista. Batdorf & Rodney had the opportunity, however, to work for some of the movers and shakers of the music business such as Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic, David Geffen of Asylum, and Clive Davis of Arista.

While two live albums and a compilation CD were released since Batdorf & Rodney called it quits in 1976, the three studio albums represent the totality of their output while they were officially performing as a duo that, by the second album, became a full-fledged band. Batdorf & Rodney morphed into the band “Silver,” but without Mark Rodney as a member.

“Home Again” from their 1972 self-titled second album is our “Bubbling Under Selection” for this Saturday. I have to give Greg Rector credit for reintroducing me to this little known folk-rock duo from the early and mid 70s. Although “Home Again” was released as a single, it failed to chart.

John Batdorf’s voice reminds me of Graham Nash – which is probably why Ahmet Ertegun was drawn to their sound. The CSNY connection is made stronger on the second album, as Batdorf & Rodney used Bill Halverson as the producer. Halverson engineered many of the collective and solo albums by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Good stuff. Thanks Greg for the suggestion.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Guess Who: Star Baby

It’s Thirty Something Thursday as we cruise the tail end of the Top 40 charts with a song that really was as close to the end as possible. The Guess Who’s 1974 release of “Star Baby” only made it #39. I would have bet money that this classic mid 70s rocker charted higher than that, as I remember hearing it everywhere in 1974. Although it fared better on Cashbox’s chart placing at #30, that position was not stellar, baby.

Even though “Star Baby” had a lackluster peak position, it stayed on Billboard’s charts longer than any other song by The Guess Who. “Star Baby” remained in the Hot 100 for a total of 19 weeks – which may explain why I heard it everywhere in 1974. In that regard, it outperformed The Guess Who’s biggest US Hit – “American Woman” and its flipside “No Sugar Tonight” were the band’s only US #1 records. “American Woman’s” longevity on the Hot 100, however, only lasted 15 weeks.

“Star Baby” appeared on the album “Road Food” and was the first single release from the LP. Its follow-up, “Clap for the Wolfman,” did better overall with a peak position of #6. Composed by Burton Cummings, “Star Baby” features some very fast slide guitar work from Kurt Winter.

Both Winter and the band’s other guitarist Donnie McDougall left the band while “Road Food” was climbing the charts in 1974. They were replaced by Domenic Troiano who came from the James Gang and who had the opportunity to replicate Winter’s slide work on tour.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Willie Mitchell: Soul Serenade

For “Wordless Wednesday,” we head to Memphis, Tennessee where Willie Mitchell recorded for the famed Hi Records label. Hi Records started in 1957, but by the time Mitchell had signed to the fledgling label it was beginning to transform into an R&B legend. Hi’s best known artist was Al Green and his recordings gave cross-town rival Stax Records a run for the money.

Unfortunately, Hi was never a powerhouse label; however, that didn’t stop them from making inroads in the R&B genre. One of their artists who had a modicum of success was Willie Mitchell. Although he had nine singles that charted on the Hot 100, only two of those made it to the Top 40 section of the chart.

Mitchell’s best known release was a remake of King Curtis’ “Soul Serenade.” It was released in 1968 – four years after Curtis’ original was released.  “Soul Serenade” was written by songwriter/producer Luther Dixon and King Curtis, who is credited under his real name of Curtis Ousley. Mitchell’s remake was his biggest selling single and it peaked at #23 on the Hot 100 and #10 on the R&B chart. Although Curtis’ original was released by Capitol, a larger label, it only peaked at #51.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Billy D. & The Hoodoos: Somethin's Wrong

Last year, I stumbled upon Billy D. & the Hoodoos and have been waiting for the right time to feature their song “Somethin’s Wrong.” With my Bluesday Tuesday feature, now is that time. Born in a hot spot for the blues, the Southside of Chicago, Billy Desmond would eventually move to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he put together his trio of performers. The Hoodoos are Big Jeff Sipe on bass, and Mikey Chavez and Craig Neil alternate as the band’s drummer. The Billy D. & the Hoodoos are currently based out of Portland, Oregon.

In November 2010, the Cascade Blues Association honored Desmond with a Muddy (named for Muddy Waters) Award for the Best New Act. Although the title cut from the “Somethin’s Wrong” CD was released in 2010, it won in the Blues/Jazz category for the 2013 UK Songwriting Contest and is probably the reason why I stumbled on to this video.

While Desmond’s guitar is shaped like a Fender Telecaster, it was custom made by John Suhr. It features two Humbucker pickups rather than the single coils found typically on Teles. Sipe is playing what appears to be a late model reissue of a Dan Electro Hodad bass guitar. It has three lipstick tube pickups and is a very nice sounding instrument.

I hope this satisfies your need for the blues on a “Bluesday Tuesday.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Foster the People: Best Friend

For our “Media Monday” selection, I go back a May episode of the David Letterman Show when Foster the People performed “Best Friend.” I remember sitting in my apartment in Kentucky watching the show. I was mesmerized by their performance.

A couple of things drew me to this song. One was the chorus of kids singing the background. They really added greatly to the presentation. They also looked like they were having a blast.

Another aspect of the song that I liked is that it was reminiscent of some of the dance music coming out of Britain in the 1980s. It evoked memories of ABC, The English Beat, Spandau Ballet, and Level 42. Plus, Cubbie Fink is playing a late model Dan Electro bass – a man after my own heart. I have two vintage Dan Electros: a 6 and a 12-string.

Studio Version

While I prefer the live version – which is a switch for me – here’s the studio recording from Foster the People’s 2014 CD “Supermodel.” The single charted at #119 on the Hot 100, #15 on the Alternative chart, #21 on the Hot Rock chart, and #22 on the Rock Airplay chart.

Foster the People is technically a trio and all of the other musicians are sidemen. Besides Fink, the other two official members are lead vocalist Mark Foster (who also plays keys) and drummer Mark Pontius.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

It's A Beautiful Day: Bombay Calling

For our “Bubbling Under” Saturday selection, I have selected an album cut from It’s A Beautiful Day’s 1969 debut album. “Bombay Calling” is significant in that it was the song that started the friendly musical feud between It’s A Beautiful Day and Deep Purple.

The tune for “Bombay Calling” was borrowed by Deep Purple and they transformed it into a Vietnam War protest song named “Child in Time.” It’s A Beautiful Day returned the favor and borrowed Deep Purple’s “Wring that Neck” for their song “Don and Dewey.”

The key instrumentation in the song, and for that matter in It’s A Beautiful Day, is David LaFlamme’s violin which he plays arco and pizzicato. In places, David also evokes the sounds of an Appalachian fiddle.

The next most important instrument in the song is the organ played by David LaFlamme’s first wife named Linda (he was married to two Lindas). Hal Wagenet also provides a nice guitar lead as well. Of course Mitchell Holman’s bass and Val Fuentes’ drums add to the mystique of “Bombay Calling.”

Although never released as a single and their signature song “White Bird” is the better known tune from their first album, “Bombay Calling” shows the immense talent of It’s A Beautiful Day.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Baskery: Throw A Bone

For Feminine Friday, I once again feature music from the Swedish group Baskery. This is the fifth song since 2009 that I’ve featured of the three Bondesson sisters: Greta, Stella, and Sunniva. Their style is hard to define as they do not easily fit into a single category, but I tend to consider them as punkabilly.

Today’s feature is a live recording of “Throw a Bone,” which was recorded by Audiotree Live less than six weeks ago. Typically Sunniva plays a jumbo sized acoustic guitar, but on “Throw a Bone,” she rocks out on a Fender Telecaster. As always, Stella contributes the low end with her “dog house” bass.

In the previous videos of Baskery that I’ve featured, Greta is playing only one drum – a snare with a foot pedal. She has the foot driven snare, but has expanded her kit with a pedal driven bass drum and a tom. In addition to her rhythmic footwork, Greta plays accents on the bass and a tom as well as keeps time with the drumsticks. As in the past videos, we find her playing slide leads on an amplified 6-string banjo. For only three members, Baskery provides a lot of sound.