Friday, September 30, 2016

AMPEX Records: Jewel

About a month ago, I was talking to the president of Alderson Broaddus University, Dr. Tim Barry, about music. Someone had told him that I had seen a number of concerts and had met a fair number of stars during my 20 years in radio. He amazed me about the number of bands he had seen in concert – far more than I have. As he was rattling off numbers of well-known acts, he listed Mason Proffit. I stopped him and said, “I’ve known very few people who knew about Mason Proffit.” Being that he was from Iowa, it was natural for him to have seen this little known band based out of Chicago.

Mason Proffit was a little ahead of their time. Contemporaries with Poco and before the Eagles, they could have been a national treasure, but they had three strikes against them. 1. They were a little too country, too soon. Had they started a couple years later or even in the early 1990s, they may have resonated with an audience who gravitated toward this style. In other words, they were country way before country was cool.

2. Their songs often were about social injustices, had politically charged messages, and had a penchant for peace during the height of the Vietnam War (and sometimes, just sometimes, they also mentioned Jesus – without being preachy). Perhaps, radio was not ready for the content side of their recordings.

3. Mason Proffit were also doomed to small, insignificant record companies during the height of their popularity. Their first two albums, “Wanted” and “Movin’ Toward Happiness,” were released on Happy Tiger – an arm of the Flying Tiger freight company. Their third, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream,” was their only foray on AMPEX Records.

By the time they had moved to their first major label, Warner Brothers, the band was disintegrating. Their output included two new albums on the label, a repackaging of the Happy Tiger LPs as a double album, and one by the Talbot Brothers to fulfill the band’s contract with their final label. Brothers Terry and John Michael Talbot were the backbone of the band, and this last album on Warners was later licensed to Sparrow Records when the Talbots devoted themselves to contemporary Christian music as solo acts who occasionally performed together.

In any configuration, the Talbots and Mason Proffit are on my list of favorite artists. For our Friday Flipside and our feature on AMPEX Records, I’ve picked “Jewel,” the flip to their only AMPEX single, “Hope.” “Jewel” is one of their social injustice songs about a black woman, whose husband was at war, and who had her small farm taken away by the government.

To care for her children, “Jewel” began to take odd jobs of cleaning and cooking, but was had difficulty in making ends meet; her children were starving. “A child never fed is a child soon to die.” As a last resort, she went back to the plantation to the Master, a man with whom she had a relationship, so that she may ask for money. She begged and asked him to remember their past. She was later found dead near the pond with a sleeping baby in her lifeless arms. The Master, in his white pillared mansion, “dreams of the black girl he loved long time ago.”

There’s just enough ambiguity in the lyrics to not know what happened to “Jewel.” Did the Master kill her? Did he give her the money and someone else robbed and killed her? Did she commit suicide? Did she die of natural causes? The conclusion I jumped to when I first heard the song was the first possibility, but the Master dreaming about her doesn’t seem like he’s the culprit – unless, she threatened to tell others about their previous affair.

In addition, we don’t know how much time elapsed been her visit and her death? She went to his mansion alone, but she has a child with her when she was found dead. Is this the same child as the one she was carrying at the beginning of the song? Was Master the father? There are too many unknowns to this song. Only the songwriters, Terry and John Michael Talbot, really know for sure. Ruminate on this mystery as it isn’t clear what happened.

“Jewel” is one of Mason Proffit’s more county styled numbers and it’s a tear jerker.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

AMPEX Records: Quiet About It

Somewhere in the recesses of my “stuff,” that is if my wife didn’t get rid of it, I have a baseball jacket that Jesse Winchester sent me in 1981. I tested his record in light rotation, but we never added it to our playlist – and the jacket didn’t influence me to play the record or not, but it was a nice thank you for trying. Jesse Winchester was not a Top 40 kind of guy, but that didn’t stop Bearsville Records and AMPEX before that from releasing singles and trying.

Today’s cut, “Quiet about It,” was his second single release from his self-titled album on AMPEX – the fourth album release for the label. While Todd Rundgren typically produced many of the early AMPEX recordings, he was the engineer on this project. Robbie Robertson of The Band produced the LP and played guitar on it as well – you can hear his licks on “Quiet about It.” Levon Helm, also from The Band, appears on the album playing drums and mandolin. There were a whole host of lesser known folks who contributed to this record.

“Quiet about It” is Winchester’s spiritual search. Noting that there is a God and that he is lost, he realizes that he is being led home.” Winchester has his doubts, but he’ll be content and be “Quiet about It.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

AMPEX Records: One Too Many Mornings

Singer-songwriter John Hartford recorded one song and only one song for AMPEX Records – not even enough to fill both sides of the single it carried. Written by Bob Dylan, “One Too Many Mornings” was the lead cut on the soundtrack for the motion picture “Jud.”

The movie was about Jud Carney, a Vietnam vet, who returned home at Christmas and did not get the welcome he expected. Needless to say, it was a box office flop. AMPEX Records released the soundtrack to coincide with the movie’s release.

The single featuring Hartford didn’t even list an artist for its flip of “Solitary Sanctuary,” which was actually performed by Alan Brackett, John Merrill, and Barbara Robinson. Another version of the same song was the last cut on the LP and was performed by the American Breed.

Hartford, who was under contract at the time to RCA, recorded this tune as a one-off for the soundtrack. I think it was one of his better early recordings. Unfortunately, like the movie, the song never took off. Too bad.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

AMPEX Records: We Gotta Get You A Woman

I have a confession to make. The only AMPEX single that I have in my collection of numerous records of all sizes and speeds is today’s feature: Todd Rundgren’s first single. Issued in October 1970, “We Gotta Get You A Woman” wasn’t even released with his name, but rather the pseudonym “Runt.” Some suggest that the name Runt referred to a band that contained Rundgren and brothers Tony and Hunt Sales. Could be, but I have my doubts.

However, further confusion occurs with the title of Rundgren’s first album – the fifth to be released by AMPEX – listed as Runt. In addition, there were two versions of the Runt album issued in 1970: The intended 10 track version and a 12 track version that has alternate takes that was inadvertently released by AMPEX in November 1970.

Adding to this confusion is the title of the song. The original single and the 12-track album lists the song as “We Gotta Get You A Woman”; however, the official album and the Bearsville oldies single has it as “We Got to Get You A Woman.” When Bearsville Productions left AMPEX with their catalog in 1972, the album was reissued on the Bearsville imprint.The Bearsville oldies single lists Todd as the artist and not Runt.

While Tony Sales played bass and percussion and Hunt Sales was on drums and percussion, all of the other instrumentation and vocals were by Todd Rundgren. In addition, Todd wrote the song and produced it as well. “We Gotta Get You A Woman” peaked at #20 and was AMPEX Records’ biggest hit.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Seventh Anniversary: Episode 1700

Seven years ago today and 1700 posts ago, I began this blog on a rainy afternoon. Today we celebrate my seventh year along with my 1700th post. This is one of the few times where the year and post anniversary fell on the same day. Before we get into analysis of blog, let’s talk about today’s feature.

In honor of the 1700th post, I selected the hit recording from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Album 1700.” The name came about as it bore the Warner Brothers catalog number of W-1700. I’m not aware of any other recording that was named in honor of its catalog number. The LP was issued in 1967.

The only hit from the LP, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was issued two years later. Written and originally recorded by John Denver under the title, “Babe I Hate to Go,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane’ was the biggest and final hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary. It was their only #1 single and was released on the Warners-7 Arts label, as Warner Brothers Records was branded at the time. It peaked at #1 in Canada and at #2 in the UK.

As for the blog, Google Analytics has changed their metrics again and much of the data we had previously reported is no longer available, so I’ll give a scaled down version of what we’ve offered in the past.

The Top Ten Visitor Countries

Since our last analysis, Germany moved from number four to number two displaced the United Kingdom and Canada, which dropped from three to six. In addition, three countries, Brazil, Spain, and the Netherlands, dropped out of the Top 10 and were replaced by Russia, Ukraine, and Japan.

1United States305,028
3United Kingdom38,756

As it has been for some time, September 28, 2010’s post regarding Elliot Murphy’s “Eva Braun” continues to be the most viewed page. Google remains the prime source of driving traffic to the blog. Thanks for your support of Reading Between the Grooves.

AMPEX Records: She Comes In Colors

Our second post from AMPEX Records features Fever Tree from Houston, Texas. The group began in 1966 as a folk band, but by 1967 they had adopted psychedelic music as a genre. Fever Tree first recorded several singles with Mainstream Records – the first label for the Amboy Dukes and Big Brother and Holding Company. By 1967, they had moved to UNI Records where they had their greatest success with the single “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native). This 1968 release only charted at #91.

After two albums on UNI, the band moved to AMPEX in 1970 and recorded several singles and the album “For Sale.” Today’s selection is the first of two singles for AMPEX – a cover of Arthur Lee and Love’s “She Comes in Colors.” Lee wrote this song about a girl he knew that always dressed in flowing colored outfits. It is thought that “She Comes in Colors” inspired the Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow.”

Although I like the original better, I think Dennis Keller’s vocals on Fever Tree’s redition are superior to Arthur Lee’s on Love’s version. You decide.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

AMPEX Records: I Ain't Searchin'

In the late 1960s, the AMPEX corporation known for its production of high quality magnetic tape decks (in a number of configurations) and commercial blank tapes entered the world of recorded music producing prerecorded reel-to-reel, 8-track, and cassette tapes for existing labels – often these were branded as being on the AMPEX label. Anyone who has collected recorded music for any length of time will have a few copies of AMPEX prerecorded tapes.

In 1970, AMPEX decided to venture into the vinyl record business. Working in conjunction with Albert Grossman and Todd Rundgren’s Bearsville Studio in Upstate New York, AMPEX set out to be the next label. AMPEX also distributed Bearsville Records (later under the Warner Brothers umbrella) and Big Tree Records, which later was distributed by Bell Records and then Atlantic Records. AMPEX Records folded in 1973 with the catalog going to Bearsville Records.

The very first AMPEX vinyl album and single was by the Philadelphia area band, The American Dream. It is often cited that this album was Todd Rundgren’s first attempt of producing. The single was popular in the Philadelphia region receiving airplay in nearby markets, but it was not a national hit. Three years ago, I featured the cover by David Uosikkinen's In The Pocket.

The American Dream included Nicky Indeliato on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Nick Jameson on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Don Lee Van Winkle on guitar; Mickey Brook on drums and percussion (notably on cowbell on this cut); and Don Ferris on bass and backing vocals. “I Ain’t Searchin’” was written by Jameson, who covered it in 1977.

The tune is indicative of the sound of local bands in the US of this era. You can hear Rundgren’s fingerprints on this cut, and it shows that he was a fairly mature producer with his first attempt. Unfortunately, the vocals on this classic Philly tune could have been a bit stronger – which probably doomed it to being only a regional hit.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sir Lord Baltimore: Kingdom Come

While the term “heavy metal” had been around for a while, the first documented evidence of its usage as a term for a type of music was in May 1971 when Creem Magazine reviewed Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut album. Released in 1970 and charting only at #198 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, “Kingdom Come” was ahead of its time.

Today, I feature the title cut, which led side two of the album. I’ve actually have had this cut in the cue to feature on some Saturday – and here we are with our bubbling under song. I received this album from my brother when he was thinning out his album collection in 1972. A year later, he asked for it back, but traded me a copy Grand Funk’s “Phoenix” as a replacement.

Released on Mercury, the band at the time of its release was a power trio and later that year added guitarist Joey Dambra to be a second guitarist to his older brother Louis Dambra; this arrangement lasted only two years. As for the other two original members, John Garner was the vocalist and drummer, while Gary Justin played bass. Sir Lord Baltimore, who were from New York, were active from 1968 to 1976. New songs were written for a third LP, but these were shelved until the band reunited in 2006 sans Gary Justin.

As you listen to “Kingdom Come,” you’ll notice that much of Louis Dambra’s guitar work was overdubbed, as there is only so much a guitarist can do at one time. A number of the leads and guitar accents are double and triple tracked to add depth. Garner who sang lead on all three albums died last year of liver failure.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Pink Floyd: Fearless

Did someone say it’s Friday, well I better pick a flipside. Pink Floyd’s sixth album “Meddle,” which I have on reel-to-reel tape (remember this?), was considered by many their finest album prior 1973’s release of “Dark Side of the Moon.” The album was released on EMI’s Harvest Records in October 1971. As I’ve said in the past, my favorite early Floyd album was their third LP “More.” But I digress.

Not known for single releases, Pink Floyd’s labels in the early years often released the obligatory 45 rpm record in conjunction with album releases. These were more prominent with their first LP, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” which differed in the choice of songs from the British release. For “Meddle,” only one single was issued in North America: “One of these Days” backed with “Fearless.”

As the album was issued on Harvest (through Capitol), it was unusual that the single was issued on Capitol. This was probably done because Capitol was the better known, parent label. This was probably done because radio programmers were very superficial. Our selection is the album version of “Fearless,” as the single edit is not available on YouTube.

Written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour, the song also features a chant of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” several places in the song, but it is prominent at the end. This was supplied from a recording of fans of the Liverpool Football Club. “You’ll Never Walk Alone’’ became the official theme song of the club because of the hit recording by fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers. Rodgers and Hammerstein received credit on both album and single.

David Gilmour sings lead. His guitar is tuned in Spanish tuning; this open “G” tuning was taught to him by his former mentor and Floyd predecessor Syd Barrett. You occasionally will hear “Fearless” on album radio, as it was one of the favorite selections from “Meddle.”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Commotion

It’s Thirty Something Thursday and we head back to 1969 with one of the lesser known hits from Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Commotion.” Charting at #30, “Commotion” was one of several social commentaries that appeared on vinyl in the late sixties and early seventies, but has been largely forgotten. The song’s chart performance is mostly due to the fact it was competing with the corresponding A-side of the single: “Green River,” which charted at #2.

From their third LP, “Green River,” “Commotion” features John Fogerty on harmonica in addition to his duties as lead guitarist and lead vocalist. This is one you never hear on the oldies or AOR stations today – too bad.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mac McAnally: Zanzibar

I got to know the music of Mac McAnally back in the late 1970s with his first album and its single release “It’s a Crazy World,” which received a modicum of airplay, but unfortunately it just scratched the Top 40 surface. His songs spoke to me, and as I rediscovered his music on YouTube, I learned how good a guitarist he is.

I’m not sure how I found today’s song, but I landed on it about two months ago. McAnally says he doesn’t know what inspired “Zanzibar,” as it is nothing like any of his songs. Maybe he was channeling Django Reinhardt – I don’t know.

The tune was recorded at “Hear and Now Live at Blackbird Studio” in Nashville. I am not sure when this occurred or who the other three players are, but the video was uploaded to YouTube a year ago. I wish I knew more, but the quality of the writing of and playing on “Zanzibar” says it all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rory Block: Since You Been Gone

How do you learn to do something? You seek out the masters and study with the best. That’s what Rory Block did at the age of 15 – she left home in search of those who perfected the Delta blues and graduated with honors. After completing her home grown studies and working in various clubs, she returned to New York City to ply her talents in the studio. Her first recording was with mentor Stefan Grossman on the tutorial album, “How to Play Blues Guitar.” On this 1967 Elektra release, Block appeared under the pseudonym “Sunshine Kate.” Shortly after the recording was released, Block took a temporary sabbatical from the business.

When she returned to recording in 1975, Block bounced from label to label having recorded one album each for RCA and Blue Goose and two for Chrysalis. Unfortunately, these four albums departed from her blues roots and took her into a more contemporary vein. Although her performance was excellent, these albums were commercial failures. In 1981, Block was prompted to return to her element – the blues, with a contract offer from Rounder Records. The result was “High Heeled Blues” – the first of 14 albums for the label.

The album was produced by Lovin’ Spoonful veteran John Sebastian and includes 12-cuts, with two being original compositions. For today’s Bluesday Tuesday selection, I’ve chosen “Since You Been Gone,” which was penned by Block. “Since You Been Gone” is a testament that Rory Block can do the country-blues with the very best.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Tommy Keene: Shake Some Action

If you’ve followed the San Francisco band the Flamin’ Groovies, you’re familiar with the title cut from their 1976 album “Shake Some Action.” While it was not domestically released as a single, it came to be one of their best known songs from their most popular album. What most folks don’t know is that the familiar version was the second time the Flamin’ Groovies had recorded the song. A seminal version was laid down in 1973; and although released in the UK in 1978, it was finally issued in the US in 2002 on their CD “Slow Death: Amazing High Energy Rock N’ Roll 1971-73!”

Since “Shake Some Action” was a signature cut for the Flamin’ Groovies, who would have thought to cover this song – well, Tommy Keene did and he released his version in 1993. Keene, who originally hailed from the Washington, DC area, had played drums in one of Nils Lofgren’s early bands before striking out on his own as a multi-instrumentalist.

This particular cut comes from Keene’s “The Real Underground” – a collection of new and previously unreleased cuts. “Shake Some Action” features Keene on guitar and vocals. You’ll hear him shine on the first solo. Eric Peterson provides the second lead guitar solo. The tune also features Brad Quinn on bass and backup vocals and John Richardson on drums.

As with most of the cuts on the LP, “Shake Some Action” was recorded at Hit and Run Studios in Rockville, Maryland. Keene produced this power pop rendition that does justice to the Flamin’ Groovies’ album rock classic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dog Days: If Dogs Run Free

Back in 1972, I got the cassette of Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” cassette at F.W. Woolworths. One of my favorite cuts on this album is the jazz influenced, beat poetry named “If Dogs Run Free” that closed out side one. I was anxiously looking for some more songs for dog days and found this classic by Dylan.

Although released in 1970, Dylan neglected to perform “If Dogs Run Free” in concert until thirty years later in 2000. The jazzy piano was supplied by Al Kooper and the female scat singing is courtesy of Maeretha Stewart. Ed Ward’s review in Rolling Stone mused, “‘If Dogs Run Free’ puts me in mind of a beatnik poetry reading at the Fat Black Pussy Cat Theatre in Greenwich Village.” Great stuff – “If dogs run free, why not we across the swooping plain?”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dog Days: Atomic Dog

When we think of dog songs, the granddaddy of them all is from one of the strangest, most innovative, and funkiest artist to allow a needle to drop on his recordings: George Clinton. The song was his R&B classic “Atomic Dog.” Before embarking on his solo career in 1982, Clinton was the mastermind and leader of the twin funk bands: Parliament and Funkadelic, both of whom had evolved from the doo-wop group The Parliaments.

If you hadn’t heard of George Clinton prior to 1982, “Atomic Dog” was your introduction. This synth and harmonizer laced funk classic, from his first solo LP “Computer Games,” brought Mr. Clinton to the forefront. Supported by a creative video, this song had an interesting chart presence for a tune that was so well known.

While it was a #1 hit Urban Contemporary hit, its performance in the clubs was lackluster with the 12 inch single only charting at #38. Contemporary Hit Radio, aware of the songs influence, was late to add the record. It only made it to #101 on Billboard’s pop charts. I know the station where I worked didn’t play it; but in our defense, Capitol Records never asked us to play it either. Looking back, I think this was a colossal mistake on theirs and my part for missing this one.

Bow-wow-wow-yippy-oh-yippy-a. Bow-wow-yippy-oh-yippy-a.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Carin' About B.E. Taylor

We interrupt our Second Week Special Week because B.E. Taylor passed away on Sunday, August 8, 2016. The 65-year old leader of the B.E. Taylor Group died from an inoperable brain tumor. Born in Aliquippa, PA as William Edward Taylor, the moniker B.E. came from his mother's nickname for the singer, Billy Eddie.

The B.E. Taylor Group was a Pittsburgh regional act that had minimal national success in the 1980s. Although not a national household name, he was well known in Western Pennsylvania, the Upper Ohio Valley, and North East Ohio. In their attempt at national stardom, The B.E. Taylor Group was signed to two major labels: MCA and Epic. Their most popular recording “Vitamin L” peaked at #66 on the Hot 100 and received considerable play on MTV in 1983 and 1984. Their first national release on MCA in 1982, “Never Hold Back,” charted at #54 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

For today’s tribute, I’ve selected their third best known recording, “Karen.” Following their stint with MCA, they recorded “Karen” on the small and independent Breaker Records in 1984. When picked up by Epic Records, the band recorded the tune in 1986. “Karen” peaked at #94 on the Hot 100.

Over the years, he had worked for Nickelodeon and Nick at Night and had recorded commercials for Old Navy. In recent years, B.E. became known for his numerous charity concerts and annual Christmas shows. Rest in Peace B.E.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dog Days: Atlanta Rhythm Section

We are in the midst of the dog days of summer, and to celebrate (or at least) realize this time of year, our Second Week Special reminds us of this part of the season. The term “dog days” has nothing to do with Fido, Rover, or Lassie – the name came from the time of year when the constellation Canis Major begins to rise in the night sky with Sirius, the Dog Star, becoming visible. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky (sans the sun) and the ancients attributed all kinds of issues with the Dog Star.

For our first song, we feature Atlanta Rhythm Section’s song “Dog Days.” When I began thinking of this topic about three weeks ago, this was the first song to come to mind. The title cut from ARS’ 1975 album of the same name, the single was not released until 1977. Being the album’s only single, it is beyond me why Polydor waited two years to issue it as a single or even at all. In fact, two singles from the next album “Red Tape” were released prior to “Dog Days.”

Atlanta Rhythm Section states that the song “Dog Days” was “[a] classic. Dean Daughtry's keyboard leads [Ronnie] Hammond's vocals through a melody that rises and falls, with lyrics that capture images of life in the South during the heat of summer. At the end of the second chorus, the song suddenly and dramatically changes tempo, and guitarist Barry Bailey takes over, leading the band into a driving musical interlude before returning to a closing keyboard coda.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Written by producer Buddy Buie, drummer Robert Nix, and keyboardist Dean Daugherty, “Dog Days” wasn’t a Top 40 hit. It peaked at #64. The band considers the album “Dog Days,” their fourth, as their “first masterpiece and an album that still stands with their best.” The album was my first from ARS – a band that evolved from the Classics IV and Mylon LeFevre’s Holy Smoke.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Mason Proffit: Were You There?

A few months ago, a friend of mine who I’ve known for 40 years said to me, “you play a lot of groups I’ve never ever heard of before.” I just smiled and agreed – the smile was genuine, as I had been successful in exposing folks to recordings they had never had the opportunity to experience. Today is no exception. Typically, I reserve Saturdays for the lesser known of the lesser known. Looking back on my notes, I found a song I had flagged four years ago to feature – the lyrical content makes it appropriate for 2016.

Based in Chicago, Mason Proffit was not a household name, but would you believe at one time they were playing 300 dates a year and some lesser known groups at the time were their opening acts. Perhaps, you’ve heard of some of these artists who supported Mason Proffit: John Denver, the Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan to name a few. After Mason Proffit disbanded in 1973, the two primary members, Terry and John Michael Talbot, fulfilled the band’s contract with Warner Brothers by recording their first album as The Talbot Brothers.

“Were You There?” speaks to the injustices and atrocities that have been committed upon others because they were from a different ethnic background. “Were You There?” comes from the band’s fourth album, “Rockfish Crossing.” This 1972 release was their first album for a major label: Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, their WB albums failed to chart as high as their previous two albums on Happy Tiger Records and Ampex Records respectively.

This is a great song all the way around; however, the harmonica by Bruce Kurnow makes “Were You There?” really shine. I love this cut.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Beach Boys: Don't Worry Baby

Today’s Friday Flipside selection is the “B” Side to The Beach Boy’s 1964 hit “I Get Around.” “Don’t Worry Baby” took its original inspiration from The Ronettes” “Be My Baby.” Originally conceived as an answer to the former hit, this idea was scrapped as Brian Wilson and Roger Christian worked on the song’s lyrics. The arrangement and production, however, has similarities to that of “Be My Baby” – a song that Brian Wilson had listened to over 100 times.

The protagonist of “Don’t Worry Baby” had bragged about his car and committed to racing it; however, he was having second thoughts about the outcome. His girlfriend provides encouragement by telling him “Don’t worry baby, everything will turn out alright.”

While many of the early Beach Boys’ hits featured the Wrecking Crew on instrumentation, “Don’t Worry Baby” features only the band. While all five members provided back-up vocals, Brian sang lead and also played bass and piano. Carl Wilson and Al Jardine played rhythm guitar and Dennis Wilson was on drums.

Since The Beach Boys had been gaining in popularity since 1962, it was not unusual for disc jockeys to flip singles and play the “B” side. While “I Get Around” topped the charts, “Don’t Worry Baby” peaked at #24. Truly it was a double-sided hit and gained The Beach Boys’ their first gold single for a million copies sold.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Byrds: My Back Pages

For our Thirty Something Thursday, we reach back into the vaults for a cover of a Bob Dylan song recorded by The Byrds in December 1966. It was last Top 40 single for The Byrds and it peaked at #30 during the spring of 1967. While The Byrds had previously recorded seven Dylan songs, they hadn’t considered recording “My Back Pages” until the suggestion came from their former producer/manager, Jim Dickson, who had been recently fired by the band.

According to Roger McGuinn, who sang lead and played the lead electric 12-string guitar, he was stopped at a traffic light in LA when Dickson pulled up alongside him and motioned for McGuinn to roll down his window. He did and Dickson yelled, “Hey, you ought to record Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages.’” McGuinn thanked him, the light changed, and he drove home to learn the song.

Not all of The Byrds, now a quartet since Gene Clark had left, were enthused by the idea of doing another cover – this was a perennial complaint of David Crosby who felt that stylistically they were regressing. It is interesting to note that Crosby’s longtime singing partner, Graham Nash, would leave The Hollies because of their band’s decision to record the album, “Hollies Sing Dylan” – an album that also featured “My Back Pages.”

The song’s most famous line, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” was the inspiration for the band’s fourth LP: “Younger than Yesterday.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mike Oldfield's Single (Theme from Tubular Bells)

Today’s “Wordless Wednesday” release is “Mike Oldfield’s Single (Theme from Tubular Bells).” This was UK single release that differed from his American 45, which became the theme for The Exorcist. While both singles came from the progressive rock LP “Tubular Bells,” they were different movements from this album. “Tubular Bells” was the first album release from Virgin Records in both the US and the UK, and the respective singles were the first Virgin 45s issued in both countries.

Although originally released in 1974, I procured my copy of this import single in 1978 from a record store in Barboursville, West Virginia. Its pastoral theme that hearkens to the traditional music of a previous century struck a chord with me – I believe that chord was a Bm. I actually prefer this movement than the one that was popular in the US. It is believed that Oldfield played all of the instruments in this movement except the oboe, which featured Lindsay Cooper.

While the American single release had a flip that was an edit of a different movement from the same album, the UK single’s B-side did not come from the “Tubular Bells” – it was the traditional song “Froggy Went A-Courting.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dire Straits: Money For Nothing

“I want my MTV!” Today is the 35th anniversary of Music Television (well, when MTV was a music television channel). Because my cable company didn’t begin offering MTV until 1982, I missed the first video, “Video Killed the Radio Star” when it first aired. Being in the entertainment industry at the time MTV broke, I can tell you the great impact that it had on the music business.

Often a song that was being panned by its own company became a big video hit and this translated into increased radio airplay and sales. It was a force with which to be reckoned; as radio programmer, you bet I paid attention to what the VJs were playing in heavy rotation, as I would be doing the same in very short order. It changed the music business as would YouTube has in recent years.

Outside of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the song that is most associated with MTV is Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” Its rudimentary computer-animated video and the obvious pandering to the channel with Sting repeating their tagline of “I want my MTV” hit home with video and radio audiences everywhere. In fact, when MTV Europe went live on this date in 1987, “Money for Nothing” was the first video to air.

Mark Knopfler said that he was inspired to write the song as he heard some employees at an appliance store in New York City were making comments about the videos on MTV – some of these show up in the lines used by the song’s narrator-protagonist. Because ZZ Top was an MTV staple, Knopfler did his best imitation of Billy Gibbons’ guitar sound.

“Money for Nothing” was the second of five singles from their multi-platinum album “Brothers in Arms.” The song did very well everywhere it was played. In the US and Canada, it was a number one single. “Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.”

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dunhill Records: Walking in the Park

We’ve come to the end of the line of our look at Dunhill Records, and typically on Saturdays I like to feature songs that were below the Top 40 line on the Hot 100, an album cut, or were non-charting singles. Today is no different, as we turn to a progressive British jazz/blues/rock band named Colosseum.

While Dunhill didn’t sign Colosseum directly, their American releases were issued on Dunhill through an arrangement with UK’s branch of Fontana Records. Apparently Mercury, Fontana’s US distributor, passed on Colosseum. An outgrowth of the Graham Bond Organization and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Colosseum was formed by drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith who played with both bands. I was just talking to someone last week about Heckstall-Smith’s performance novelty of playing two saxes simultaneously.

In addition to Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith, Colosseum featured James Litherland on guitar and lead vocals, Tony Reeves on bass, and Dave Greenslade on keyboards. You may remember Greenslade’s name as he fronted a band of the same name in the 1970s. Their 1969 debut LP, “Those Who Are About to Die Salute You,” took its name from what gladiators would say to Caesar before entering in a contest to the death.

Written and originally recorded by Graham Bond, “Walking in the Park” was the first single from this LP. The placement of this song on the album was interesting. Fontana led the album with the track and Dunhill placed it at the end of the album. Either way, the single failed to chart in either the UK or the US.

“Walking in the Park” also featured sideman Henry Lowther on trumpet. The song has a killer arrangement with Litherwood’s powerful vocals and lead guitar, Greenslade’s organ, and the horns of Heckstall-Smith and Lowther. Buckle-up, as this one really moves.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dunhill Records: Baby It's You

Having formed in Los Angeles in 1969, the band Smith had no members who bore the most popular English language surname. Having been discovered in 1969 by Del Shannon, he brought Smith to ABC/Dunhill, a label to which he had been signed earlier in the same year. Although the group released four singles and two albums before they disbanded, a remake of the Shirelles’ classic “Baby it’s You” was their first single and their only hit record.

It has been said that Shannon came up with the new arrangement of the composition penned by Burt Bacharach, Mack David, and Luther Dixon (under the name of Barney Williams). Lyricist Mack David was the older brother of Bacharach’s frequent songwriting partner Hal David. The sha-la-la vocals from the original and The Beatles version were replaced by an organ riff from Larry Moss. With the heavier arrangement, Smith’s version was perfect for 1969 and beyond. Joel Sill and Dunhill staffer Steve Barri produced the recording.

“Baby it’s You” appeared on the album “A Group Called Smith” and peaked as a single in November 1969 at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. “Baby it’s You” showcases the incredible talent of Gayle McCormick and its sad that she never ever was to reprise her career as she had the pipes. Just listening to where she screams “Baby!!!” near the end of the song sends chills up and down my spine. After Smith, McCormick released three solo albums and several singles, but none achieved the acclaim of her first single with Smith. McCormick died earlier this year on March 1 from cancer.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dunhill Records: Pieces of April

While it wasn’t Three Dog Night’s biggest hit, “Pieces of April” from November 1972 was one of two singles from their “Seven Separate Fools” album and one of my favorite songs of the band. I guess I remember this song, as this was released during my senior year in high school. Of all of the acts on Dunhill Records, Three Dog Night had to be the label’s most popular.

Written by Dave Loggins (remember “Please Come to Boston”), it was originally an album cut on his 1972 album “Personal Belongings”; Vanguard later released it in January 1973 to compete with Three Dog Night’s version. Loggins later re-recorded the tune and released it as a single on Epic in 1979. While neither single charted in the Hot 100, Loggins’ second version peaked at 22 on the adult contemporary charts.

As for Three Dog Night’s rendition of this ballad, it only peaked at #19 on the Hot 100. I would have expected it to have charted higher, but a November release is always a gamble. Chuck Negron was lead vocalist on this cut.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dunhill Records: Magic Carpet Ride

Day four of our look at Dunhill Records brings us a release from September 1968 with the newly reconstituted ABC/Dunhill records imprint. “Magic Carpet Ride” was Steppenwolf’s fifth single release and their second Top 5 record. Like the previous hit, “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride” was certified as a gold single for one million units sold. It was the only single released on their second LP – which was appropriately titled “The Second.” The single peaked at #3.

Co-written by Steppenwolf’s guitarist/vocalist John Kay and bassist Rushton Moreve. Moreve, an original member of the band, left Steppenwolf after recording “The Second.” He rejoined the band in 1978, but was killed in an automobile accident in 1981 prior to John Kay and Steppenwolf’s recording of the album “Wolftracks” in 1982.

One of my favorite parts of this song is Goldy McJohn’s organ parts. I always thought that he used a Hammond organ, but McJohn stated that his instrument of choice was a Lowrey. Of course, he had this beast connected to a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet that provided a Doppler effect to the organ’s sound. McJohn’s staccato style of playing gave a percussive feel that added to the heaviness of this recording.

The single mix, in my opinion, is much better than the album version. It has a different lead vocal track and the overall instrumental balance is better. Typically, I prefer the album mixes, but there are always exceptions. I provide both versions so you can choose which on you like.

Single Edit

Album Version

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dunhill Records: Midnight Confessions

Suggested by Lou Adler, president of Dunhill Records, and put into fruition by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri in 1965, The Grass Roots became one of the top hit making bands to make their mark with the label. Originally called The Grassroots, it was formed as a studio band with an ever changing lineup until 1967. The name change occurred during the new band’s first year.

Having submitted a demo to Dunhill, a LA based band named the 13th Floor became the permanent version of the group. The band went through three bassists until Rob Grill was enlisted into the incarnation of The Grass Roots that most of us know. He was the band’s primary lead singer in addition to playing bass.

In 1968, the band recorded their biggest hit, “Midnight Confessions.” The band was a four piece during this period and also featured Warren Entner on guitar/keyboards, Creed Bratton on lead guitar, and Rick Coonce on drums. When Bratton left the band in 1969, Dennis Provisor was brought in on guitar and Terry Furlong joined the band on keyboards. By 1971, The Grass Roots enlarged to a six piece combo with Brian Naughton as additional lead guitarist. Other line-up changes occurred in 1972 and 1974.

While the band performed the song in concert, there is no indication that The Grass Roots per se played the instruments on the actual recording. While the band provided the vocals, instrumentation was supplied by The Wrecking Crew. The legendary bass line, which was later played live by Rob Grill, was actually performed by Carole Kaye who contributed to hundreds of recordings.

“Midnight Confessions” charted at #5 during the summer of 1968 and was their only single to be certified gold.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dunhill Records: Monday, Monday

During 1965, Dunhill Records signed one of their biggest acts, The Mama’s and the Papas. This new vocal group was led by John Phillips who, along with his wife Michelle, had been in the folk group The New Journeyman.

Enter Denny Doherty and later Cass Elliot from the Mugwamps and this new group spent several months in the Virgin Islands honing their craft and working out the intricate harmonies that made them successful and became the inspiration for a half a dozen other popular vocal groups.

Brought to Dunhill by their friend Barry McGuire, the band was signed by Lou Adler. Their first single, “Go Where You Want to Go,” was released to radio in November 1965, but there is no evidence that this debut single ever was released commercially. If so, it failed to chart in any trade publications.

While I’m speculating here, it may be that Adler felt that “California Dreamin’” was a better selection for the public as winter was approaching and it was released on the heels of  “Go Where You Want to Go” with the same picture sleeve photo.  Since they were an unknown act at the time, it took a couple months for radio to gravitate towards the song – plus releasing a new artist before the Christmas holiday was not wisest decision. But it eventually became the first their of several top 10 hits.  It also was certified as a gold record.

“California Dreamin’s” follow-up, “Monday, Monday,” is today’s selection. Why? It’s Monday. This was the band’s most popular song. It was their only #1 record, second of two gold singles, and it won the Grammy for best pop vocal by a duo or group.

Having grown up with the mono version on AM radio – the place where we used to hear the hits – I find it difficult to listen to Lou Adler’s stereo mix on this song. I know, this is how many records (ad nauseam) were mixed for stereo – put the back-up vocals on one side, the instruments on the other, and if you’re lucky the lead vocal might be in the middle.

However, a good many records had all the vocals to one side. I think there was an unwritten principle that this practice illustrated the aural width of a recording – let’s get as much separation as possible and it might sound live. I am certainly glad that by the late 60s, this practice began to wane. The instrumentation for this song was provided by The Wrecking Crew, a loose collection of LA studio musicians who played on a bazillion records and who had a fluid line-up. John Phillips sang lead on this number.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dunhill Records: Eve of Destruction

Now that we’re back on track with the blog, we can resume with our features. Since it’s the fourth week of the month, we turn to our Fourth Week Label Feature. For this week, I’ve chosen Dunhill Records. The company was conceived in 1964 by Lou Adler and several others as a production house for Johnny Rivers. It did not become an actual label until spring 1965.

While it is commonly cited that the label’s initial release was by Adler's wife Shelley Fabares, this is incorrect. Two singles were issued a month prior to Fabares’ recording: Ray Whitley’s “I’ve Been Hurt” and Ritchie Weems and the Continental Five’s “Natural Born Man.” These two singles were numbered D-201 and D-202 respectively.

With Dunhill’s third release (Fabares’ “My Prayer” cataloged as D-4001), the label began a distribution deal with ABC-Paramount Records – later simply known as ABC Records. Two years later, Adler sold his shares to ABC and this created the subsidiary label: ABC-Dunhill Records. Dunhill would be inextricably linked to ABC throughout its 10-year run.

By 1975, ABC began consolidating its subsidiaries under the ABC Records’ umbrella and Dunhill was no longer an active imprint.  Within four years, ABC’s record holdings were purchased by MCA and subsequent releases used its imprint. Geffen Records now controls the Dunhill catalog. This week will look at seven releases from Dunhill and ABC-Dunhill.

Numbered as D-4009, Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” was actually Dunhill’s twelfth release and not the eleventh as one may surmise. This was because two P.F. Sloan singles that were subsequently issued shared the D-4007 catalog number and the same B-side.

Written in 1964 by P.F. Sloan, “Eve of Destruction” chronicled the unrest in the world during the mid 1960s that dealt with war, suffering, and racism. According to McGuire, he recorded the song on a Thursday and it was on the air the following Monday. McGuire’s recording was Dunhill’s first Top 40 hit and it quickly ascended to the number one slot during the fall of1965. The song hit apparently hit a political nerve at the time.

The double strike on the tom-tom found only in the intro and the first verse provides a subliminal sound effect of artillery fire that accentuates the message decrying war. The lyrics played on the real fears of nuclear annihilation – “if the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away. There will be no one to save with the world in a grave.” Sloan’s lyrics also points at hypocrisy found in America with the line “hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.”

McGuire later re-recorded “Eve of Destruction” on his second Contemporary Christian release “Lighten Up.” It was released on Myrrh Records in 1974 - a label that was part of ABC's holdings of Word Records in the 1970s. Being the album’s lead track dispels the rumors that McGuire eschewed the song once becoming a Christian. He still performs “Eve of Destruction,” but often modifies the lyrics to be applicable to the unrest of the present world.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bruce Springsteen: Jungleland

As Lou Abbott used to say, “I’ve been a baaaaad boy.” During the last three years, I have let my participation in this blog lapse. Much of my absence has been due to some major changes that have occurred in my life since the end of 2012. Unfortunately, 2015 and 2016 have suffered the most with my lack of posts. I dropped below 100 posts in 2015 and so far this year, I’ve only had 17. It is time to rectify this. Jim Mycyk, a friend of mine since first grade, asked me three weeks ago when I was bringing back “Reading between the Grooves.” I told him soon. That time has come.

What better way to return to writing is to head back to Bruce Springsteen’s landmark album from 1975, “Born to Run.” It wasn’t the first album for this legendary New Jersey rocker, but his third; and, it was the first to propel him to stardom. Having lived in Eastern Kentucky since 1973 where album radio was scarce in the mid-70s, I hadn’t heard of Springsteen until I walked through my college’s library and saw his face on both the covers of Time and Newseek. Who was this guy with the chimera of a guitar that sported a Fender Telecaster body and an Esquire neck?

During that same fall, Springsteen had his first Top 40 hit with the title cut, “Born to Run,” which peaked at #23. A second single, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” fared worse at #83. In 1974, music maven Jon Landau wrote in The Real Paper, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Springsteen and Columbia Records both took note.

Landau was brought in as one the producers of the “Born to Run” LP and Columbia engaged in a massive quarter of a million dollar publicity campaign for the album. With inflation, that campaign would cost about $2 million in current dollars. Not a small investment for an artist that, up to this point, had minimal success. Was it worth it?  Over the years, “Born to Run” has sold over six million copies worldwide, with two million in sales in the US alone.

While this album was wildly popular, it was not certified gold or platinum until the 21st century. It earned the gold record certification in April 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America for 500,000 copies sold. Three months later, the RIAA certified it platinum for a million copies sold. By 2004, it achieved double platinum status for two million sold copies – showing that even nearly 30 years after its release, it was still viable in the minds (and ears) of the American public.

Bruce Springsteen holds a special place in my heart, as because of him I received my only hate letter in my 20 year career as a broadcaster. In November 1981, I had done a wildly exaggerated impersonation of Springsteen on the air, and a lady, originally from Philadelphia, saw the need to write a six-page, single spaced, typewritten letter telling me how much she loathed me because I had insulted “The Boss.”

She went on to say that, had I lived in Philadelphia, people would have been camped out on the doorstep of the station waiting for me to end my shift that night to teach me a lesson that only those who lived in and near New Jersey could. I still have the letter, as it was a first. In addition, her Herculean effort was worth saving. Good thing I used a different name on the air at the time.

For my return to “Grooves,” I didn’t pick “Born to Run” or “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” but rather an album cut that is my favorite song on the LP. This nearly 10 minute song closed out the album and starts out uncharacteristic of a typical Sprinsgsteen song – but if you wait, it is Springsteen through and through.

The song commences with Roy Bittan on piano and Suki Lahav on violin before this song about love, gang warfare, and bloodshed commences into a full rocker. It also features one of the best sax solos by Springsteen’s longtime partner in musical crime, the late Clarence Clemmons. The relationship between these two is cemented in the minds of Springsteen fans everywhere due to the iconic album cover of “Born to Run.” The lead guitar on “Jungleland” is played by Springsteen – this was before the addition of Little Steven and Nils Lofgren who augmented these duties later.

The piano, violin, sax, and Springsteen’s overly processed cries of anguish at the song’s conclusion all contributed to this musical epic. The addition of a string arrangement shows a softer side to a harsh story merges with the rock guitar, drums, bass, and organ that accentuates the violence that occurs in “Jungleland’s” story. The production on “Jungleland” is legendary – the changing dynamics are essential to match the emotions in the lyrical content. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A George Martin Production: A Day In The Life

I couldn’t end out my tribute to George Martin without featuring one of his most famous and involved recordings: The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” This final cut on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album took a total of 34 hours to record and the sessions comprised four days in January and February 1967.

While it is generally considered an album cut, it was released as the flipside of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”/”With a Little Help from my Friends” single in 1978. The “A” side only peaked in the US at #71. This single was timed with the release of the musical “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that featured The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Steve Martin, and others. George Martin arranged and produced the movie’s soundtrack.

As for the original album, “A Day in the Life” had several constituent parts, which are as follows:
  • Verses one and two written and sung by John Lennon;
  • An orchestral crescendo as a link;
  • A bridge written and sung by Paul McCartney;
  • A second bridge comprising vocal effects and written by Lennon;
  • Verse three written and sung by Lennon; and
  • The song’s finale featuring an orchestral crescendo and the eternal chord.

The link and end were the final aspects of the song to be recorded. George Martin composed the score for a 40 piece orchestra by writing out the lowest note of each instrument culminating in their highest note that would comprise an “E” major chord. The instrumentalists were ascending chromatically to their final destination. As one can notice, they were not all in time with each other and not on the same notes. In addition, some of Paul McCartney’s piano chords in the link are discordant – but it all works surprisingly well.

The crescendo was redone for the song’s finale and four takes were overdubbed as one giant orchestral swell. For the song’s ending, the four members of the band originally tried humming an “E” chord, but couldn’t create the impact they desired for this track – it needed to be dramatic. Three pianos were brought into the studio and Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Mal Evans, the band’s road manager and assistant, all played an “E” chord. George Martin also played a harmonium to add to the chord’s texture.

All five struck the “E” chord simultaneously and as it naturally decayed the microphone volumes were increased incrementally to add to the effect. It is probably the most famous chord in recording history. In 1978, The Rutles, a Beatles parody act, recreated a similar, but less involved, crescendo. Their Lennonesque “Cheese and Onions” ended with a humorous staccato chord.

“A Day in the Life” was probably the most creative production that George Martin had been involved. Rest in Peace George and thanks for your many years of musical talent and abilities as an arranger and producer.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A George Martin Production: Let Me Down Easy

Formed in 1976, American Flyer was considered to be the newest folk-rock super group; however, it was difficult, despite their quasi-famous lineup, to live up to the reputation. The band consisted of Craig Fuller of the Pure Prairie League; Eric Kaz ex the Blues Magoos; Steve Katz formerly of Blood, Sweat, & Tears; and Doug Yule previously with the Velvet Underground. Oh, by the way, the first of their two albums was produced by George Martin.

Named for the A.C. Gilbert Company’s model train, their brand was familiar enough to the public by association; however, American Flyer, the band, never quite caught on despite the reputation of their members. Their debut LP produced one charting single: “Let Me Down Easy.” Unfortunately, it only peaked at #80. American Flyer disbanded in 1978.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A George Martin Production: Sister Golden Hair

While George Martin had produced numerous #1 hits with The Beatles and others, he had a drought between 1970 and 1975. His final top charting song with The Beatles was his production on the “Let it Be” single. Although the band would have one more number one with “The Long and Winding Road,” it was Phil Spector’s term at the helm that time.

George Martin’s next number one hit was America’s “Sister Golden Hair” that was released as a single from their album “Hearts.” Gerry Beckley, who wrote and sang the tune, was looking for a song that was a marriage between the styles of Jackson Browne and George Harrison. I think he succeeded.

While the song has the flavor of a Jackson Browne message, the slide guitar was quite reminiscent of the nascent sound of the former Beatle – leading some to speculate that Harrison played these parts. Alas, it was one of the members of America. It is unclear from the liner notes who actually played slide guitar parts, but only the members of the band are credited as guitarists on the album.

Beckley admitted that the song was originally written for the previous LP, “Holiday.” For some unknown reason it was shelved. Since Martin produced “Holiday,” it is likely that it would have been recorded in the same vein as it was in 1975. Besides “Holiday” and “Hearts,” Martin would also produce the following albums by America: “History: America’s Greatest Hits,” “Hideaway,” “Harbor,” “America Live,” and “Silent Letter.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A George Martin Production: Cause We've Ended as Lovers

Day four of our look at the production work of George Martin with a cut from guitarist Jeff Beck’s instrumental album “Blow by Blow.” This LP was a departure for Beck and moved him into more of a jazz vein. “Blow by Blow” was the second album that credited him as a solo act – the first being 1968’s “Truth.”

Recorded in 1974 at the end of the run of Beck, Bogart, & Appice, “Blow by Blow” was produced by George Martin – one of two of Jeff Beck’s LPs where he shaped the sound – the second was “Blow by Blow’s” follow-up: “Wired.”

This 1975 release is truly a great album. I happen to have a half-speed master of the vinyl edition that a friend at Epic Records gave to me in the 80s. At #4, it was Jeff Beck’s highest charting LP of his career. Our featured selection, “Cause We've Ended as Lovers,” was written by Stevie Wonder and is one of two of his compositions appearing on the album. Beck’s guitar emotes passion, grief, angst, and excitement all in a single song.

“Cause We've Ended as Lovers” features the keyboard work of Max Middleton – a former member of the Jeff Beck Group. Middleton uses a Fender Rhodes electric piano with a Super Satellite Speaker System that gives the characteristic Rhodes vibrato that sounds so good in stereo. The Super Satellite System contained two twin-12 cabinets each with its own 100 watt amp. One acted as the master unit and the other as the slave.

In addition to Beck and Middleton, the album also featured Phil Chen on bass and Richard Bailey on drums and percussion. Although not credited, Stevie Wonder adds clavinet to his other composition: “Thelonius.” Great stuff and wonderful production by the master – George Martin.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A George Martin Production: 13 Questions

It seems that the state of album rock radio has gone the way of Top 40 – I swear you hear the same songs over and over. Just last week I was inundated with The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” (four times) and Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (3 times). Now, I love both songs, but come on – give me a little variety now and then.

With that said, in the last year I discovered WRLF in Fairmont, WV – an automated AOR station in North Central West Virginia. Personally, I would like to shake the hand of the programmer, as not only do you hear the classics, but they have a good bit of variety. Sometime within the last several months, I was driving back from Pittsburgh and was listening to the station and heard Seatrain’s “13 Questions” – a song that I probably hadn’t heard since 1971.

Formerly known as Sea Train, the band altered their name to Seatrain with their second LP, which happened to be produced by George Martin. While some say this album was the first Martin produced since his work with The Beatles, it was not, as he had a couple other clients prior to recording the Seatrain LP.

Richard Greene’s electrified fiddle and Lloyd Baskin’s clavinet make this cut. While Seatrain never became a household name, they made some great music. Unfortunately, “13 Questions” only made it to #49. Even more important than a chart position was the greatness of the music that was framed by their famed producer: Sir George Martin.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A George Martin Production: Don't Let the Sun Catch Your Crying

What band from Liverpool band was produced by George Martin, managed by Brian Epstein, and had their first three singles on an EMI label hit #1 on the UK charts? If you answered The Beatles, then you were wrong. While The Beatles were from Liverpool, produced by Martin, and were managed by Epstein, their first three EMI releases charted at #17, #2, and #1 in the UK. The band in question was Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Their first three singles, “How Do You Do It?,” “I Like It,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” all were number one releases in the UK. In the US, the trio of hits placed respectfully at #9, #17, and #48. The band’s biggest hit in the US, also produced by George Martin, was “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”; it charted at #4 in 1964.

Written by the band’s leader Gerry Marsden, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” is notable for its use of major 7th chords, lush strings, and the tasteful accent of a single oboe. Since George Martin studied oboe, I’m wondering if this influenced his decision to use the instrument on this recording. Martin’s talent as a producer is evident on this ballad

Although Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded for Columbia (UK), an EMI subsidiary that separated from the American label of the same name in the 1930s, EMI’s American arm (Capitol Records) passed on Gerry and The Pacemakers. They had initially passed on The Beatles, but later became their American label. Gerry and Pacemakers were signed to the independent Laurie Records in the US. Laurie remained their American label during the band’s three-year run from 1963-1966.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A George Martin Production: Ultravox's Hymn

This last Tuesday, May 8, 2016, renowned record producer George Martin passed away at the age of 90. As most news outlets reported, Martin was best known in his role as the producer of all of The Beatles hit albums save one – “Let it Be.” Although Martin had produced most of the album’s singles and was the original producer on the fledgling album under the working title of “Get Back,” the band replaced him with Phil Spector for the final album release.

During the next week, I’ll be highlighting Martin’s production work. Yes, we’ll be featuring a Beatles’ song or two, but I want to concentrate on some of the other artists he produced. While his work with The Beatles stretched his creativity beyond comprehension, he is one of the best known producers of the 20th century.

One of the groups that he worked with was Ultravox in 1982. This new wave synth band of the 70s and 80s was barely known in the US. Charting at #61, their best selling US LP, “Quartet,” was the only album produced by George Martin. As the band was preparing to record “Quartet,” they sought a new producer and Martin’s daughter Lucy, an Ultravox fan, encouraged her dad to take the gig.

One of the single releases from “Quartet” was their tune “Hymn.” Loosely drawing from biblical language, the band produced what would be best termed as a psalm or song rather than a hymn despite the record’s title. The artwork for the picture disc and the single’s sleeve used Masonic emblems go figure.  While “Hymn” was the band’s fourth most popular release in the UK and charted at #11, it failed to make a dent in the US charts. Ultravox’s only single to chart on the Hot 100 was “Quartet’s” previous single “Reap the Wild Wind,” which only made it to #71.

Enjoy this week of George Martin production and remember this man behind the music.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

RIP Keith Emerson: Take A Pebble

The musical world is reeling over yesterday’s untimely death of Keith Emerson from an apparent suicide. This great talent is now only with us through his recordings. My connection to Emerson came from my first hearing “Lucky Man” in 1970 on the radio and the band’s first two albums at my brother’s house in Lexington, Kentucky during the summer of 1971. Being a high school student on a limited budget, I settled for the “Lucky Man” single. The next year, I received as a gift “Five Bridges” by Emerson’s previous band – The Nice and purchased ELP’s single “From the Beginning.”

I had the opportunity to see ELP in concert during their “Works” tour on May 28, 1977 at the old Charleston, WV Civic Center. It was originally to be one of two consecutive shows in Cincinnati, but the first show was cancelled and Charleston became the venue for the 28th. Since it was a smaller hall than most of their shows that tour, there was no orchestra – just Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

The Charleston show was festival seating and I sat down front and was quickly amazed at the pyrotechnics of Keith Emerson’s playing. Not only was he a fantastic musician, he was quite the showman. He attacked his keyboards with vigor – especially his Hammond organ – which he pulled down on himself several times during the night – never missing a note. He also used daggers to hold the keys down to create a drone sound.

A friend of mine who worked in a record store in Huntington, WV saw the Charleston show as well as the Cincinnati show on May 29 with the orchestra. She admitted the Charleston show was much more interesting. I know I enjoyed myself immensely.

To remember this great musician, I selected a song that features Keith Emerson on piano. Not only does it show his classical and jazz chops, he strums the grand piano in a prepared fashion twice during the tune. “Take a Pebble” is the second and longest cut on their debut album. This is one of my favorite album cuts by ELP.

Long live the music of the master of the keyboards: Keith Emerson.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

In Memory of Paul Kantner: We Can Be Together

Paul Kantner, another icon of rock ‘n roll, passed on Thursday, January 28. While some may not recognize his name, his influence was felt for many years as a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and the KBC Band.

Like many of the American rock performers of the mid to late 1960s, Kantner began as a folk singer in the vein of Pete Seeger. It was at one of these gigs that Marty Balin saw him and invited him to start a new band that became Jefferson Airplane. He eventually became the band’s leader. While he was not generally the front-person, he had the distinction of being the only member of Jefferson Airplane and its spinoff Jefferson Starship to appear on all of the albums by both groups.

Paul Kantner died in San Francisco from multiple organ failure and septic shock that occurred after having a heart attack. For our tribute to this seminal musician, I’ve selected the “B” side to the first single released from the 1969 LP “Volunteers”: “We Belong Together.” Kantner wrote the song and shared lead vocals with Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Thanks for the music, Paul, we’ll miss you.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Glenn Frey's Already Gone

The music world is still reeling from David Bowie’s death a week ago, and now the news has arrived about the untimely passing of Glenn Frey at the age of 67 in New York. The cause was rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia. He was recovering from intestinal surgery.

Photo by Steve Alexander; used under license of Creative Commons.
While he trained as a pianist, Frey was better known as a guitarist who doubled on piano. His first recording was playing rhythm guitar and singing backup on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” in 1968. After touring with Linda Ronstadt in 1970, Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon formed the Eagles. Glenn sang a number of their hit records including today’s featured recording: “Already Gone.”

This 1974 hit was co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund. Tempchin and Frey would later team up to write a number of Frey’s solo hits. The lead guitar parts on “Already Gone” were supplied by both Frey and the band’s newest member, Don Felder. Although “Already Gone” only peaked at #32, it remains one of the Eagles’ better known songs.

Following the break-up of the band, he had a successful solo career with five Top 40 hits between 1982 and 1988. His last album was released in 2012 and departed from the styles he developed in the Eagles and as a solo artist. Laying aside his guitar and using only his voice as his instrument, “After Hours” was an album of standards and other songs in a similar vein.

I had the opportunity to meet Glenn on August 24, 1985 in Charleston, WV when he was opening for Tina Turner on her “Private Dancer” tour. While a number of radio programmers from four different markets were getting ready to meet him backstage, Glenn loudly called me by name “Jim, how on earth are you doing?” After giving me a big hug, he whispered in my ear, “I saw your name on your jacket. Just play along and we’ll make all of these other radio guys jealous.” After some banter he grabbed my hand and just started to dance. What you see below was caught on film by a friend. He was one of the most congenial stars that I’ve had an opportunity to meet.

The world has lost another great musical voice and we sadly pay our respects to Glenn Frey – Rest in Peace.