PICKING UP PASSENGERS, COAST TO COAST (The Best of the Rest, 2015, R.I.P.)

The Death Train was even busier than I thought, last year. There were some I just didn’t have a chance to write about in a timely fashion and some I didn’t know about. Anyway, I know now and these are the ones I didn’t want to let go by without at least a word:

Little Jimmy Dickens (Country legend: Jan. 3, 94)

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 07: Recording Artists "Little" Jimmy Dickens performs at The Grand Ole Opry on June 7, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

David Cantwell said it better than I ever could.

Cynthia Lennon (Long-suffering Beatle wife: April 1, 75)

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Lulu, and the years, said it better than I ever could.

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Bob Burns (Original drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Florida boy: April 3, 69)

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Lynn Anderson (Country star supreme: July 3, 67)

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Billy Joe Royal (Working class hero, pop and country star, blue-eyed soul singer extraordinaire, and, claiming a space beyond even Lynn Anderson, Linda Ronstadt and Elvis, the only person who ever sang Joe South better than Joe South did: Oct. 6, 73)

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(and, because I’ll probably never have a better excuse to post this lovely, inexplicable thing)….

Cory Wells (Vocalist for Three Dog Night, pop-rocker sui generis: Oct. 20, 74)

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Haskell Wexler (Legendary cinematographer who directed only one film. It was enough: Dec. 27, 93)

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(H. Wexler, on the set of Medium Cool)

Message to the Maker. Take a breather. Please.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2016 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES…IRRESPECTIVE OF MY PERSONAL FEELINGS!

Just kidding folks.

No matter what anyone pretends (including some of the artists themselves), being inducted into a major Hall of Fame is a great honor and I’m down with anybody who makes it through the process.

This year it’s Chicago, N.W.A., Steve Miller, Cheap Trick and Deep Purple.

I didn’t have any especially strong feelings for any of the artists nominated this rime around except Spinners and, of course, being by far the most deserving, they did not make it. I’ll keep hoping. The one act I voted for in fan balloting which made the grade was Cheap Trick. I hope (but doubt) that their induction opens a crack for Big Star, Raspberries and the Go-Go’s, the other great power pop bands who were even greater rock and roll bands than Cheap Trick, to receive future consideration. We shall see.

As to the rest, N.W.A. and Deep Purple were genuine pioneers even if I’m not the prime audience for their music (and even if Joe South, deserving himself, did out-rock DP on “Hush”). Steve Miller was a genuine survivor, and Chicago sure did sell a lot of records (not a few of which I like a lot). All in all, I’d say it’s about average as recent classes go but it does continue one especially deep and troubling trend that I’ll keep harping on until it gets better: The Hall should stop pretending that black people disappeared in the 70s. If Chicago and Cheap Trick and Steve Miller can all go in during the same year, the first time any of them were nominated, then there’s no reason Barry White and the Commodores and Ohio Players shouldn’t go in next year as first time nominees.

Not to mention War and Spinners, the era’s greatest band and greatest vocal group respectively, R&B or otherwise. They both should have been in long ago.

So, looking forward, let this be the beginning of a new road folks, not an endless highway where a stream of geriatric white folks are eternally joined by a token rap or alternative act or two (look for Pearl Jam and Tupac next year), all selected by a hardening formula that now prizes television ratings over the Hall’s purported mission, as opposed to striking a necessary balance.

Take some advice in other words…

For my initial thoughts on the year’s nominees you can go here…

THOUGHTS ON THE 2016 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINEES

Since my first post on the Hall several years ago, at least a few of the acts I considered egregious oversights (Donna Summer, Linda Ronstadt, The “5” Royales) have found their way in. I’m confident I’ve had nothing whatsoever to do with this, except maybe cosmically, but the cosmos must be attended, so I take heart and keep plugging away. My lists of the most deserving not yet inducted are still very much the same and can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.

I try to do something a little different each year, simply because my relationship to each new batch of nominees is bound to change at least a little. This year, it’s a simple breakdown: 1) Acts (well, one anyway) who are in my own pantheon and therefore no-brainers; 2) Acts I have at least some strong feeling for, either because I think they filled some place in Rock History that can’t be entirely ignored or I just like their records a lot; and 3) Acts I don’t pretend to get.

So, in reverse order:

Acts I don’t pretend to get (or can at least easily eliminate from this particular ballot):

Nine Inch Nails and The Smiths: Charter members of the Gloom Squad, representativesof which, given the air of stagnation and hopelessness that began to dominate the culture in the late eighties and has continued to suck at our collective oxygen supply every single day since, we are almost certainly stuck with in perpetuity. If they are your thing, peace be upon you, but let’s do cancel the dinner reservations.

Yes: I really like “Roundabout.” But, as one record arguments go, it’s not exactly “La Bamba,” or “Summertime Blues.”

The J.B.s.: Very worthy. Please induct them immediately in the Musical Excellence or Sidemen category, as should have been done long ago. Can’t see spending a vote on them in the performer category.

Chicago: I’m at least a little torn on this one. I do like a lot of their records (more than I think I do actually, unless some event like this one forces me to focus). But I can’t say I’ve listened to them a lot so I just don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other. I will say their lack of critical respect and their capacity for annoying the crit-illuminati by selling millions of records hardly count against them in my book. That said, if the ice is beginning to thaw around the idea of acknowledging AM giants as a necessary and vital part of Rock and Roll History, give me Three Dog Night or the Fifth Dimension any day. Not to mention Tommy James.

Chaka Khan: I could see voting for her some time, especially if (as happened in the past) she was being considered along with her great interracial funk band, Rufus. But she might be one of those acts I can always consider voting for in theory who just never happens to crack the top five on any given ballot. Time will tell. BTW: Interracial funk bands have a way of getting overlooked by the Hall: Think War, Hot Chocolate, KC and the Sunshine Band. Apparently Sly and the Family Stone are enough for the “Hey I’m not really opposed to the concept” crowd. I’d like to see this change, so Rufus would be more likely to get my vote than Chaka alone.

Acts I’d at least strongly consider:

Janet Jackson: She’s a strong candidate and, as someone who generally chides the Hall for seriously slacking on recognition of women and black people, she should be a natural. She was a major superstar and I even like a lot of her records. I can’t say I ever had that special “moment” with her, though. There’s no one record that makes me pull her records off the shelf at least every once in  a while. Since this is very rare for me with any rock and roll act who had even a modest run of sustained success I have to be at least a little bit suspicious. Why Janet? Why aren’t we connecting like we should? Why are Chaka and Chicago in the not-ready-for-consideration category when no record you ever made is on a level with “Tell Me Something Good” or “Just You ‘n’ Me?”  Why does life hold so many mysteries? Withholding judgment on this one…

N.W.A.: The other act on this ballot who are considered a likely slam dunk. Overall that’s a good sign. I can’t remember the last time the two favorites going in were African-American. Wish I liked their music as well as their story. I mean, should burnishing my street cred feel so much like eating my broccoli? Or reading my Chomsky? Withholding….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

Chic: Yes, yes they should be in. I love “Le Freak” unconditionally (as well as a number of Rodgers and Edwards’ productions for other artists) so there is no problem with the “connection” missing in the previous two entries. And yes, I’m probably going to vote for them. I still don’t quite get why they’ve been on the ballot ten times and Barry White and KC and the Sunshine Band have zero nominations between them…But I’m probably still going to vote for them. Let’s wait and see.

Deep Purple: I was keener on them until I started listening to Joe South again and realized his version of “Hush” not only wastes theirs on the, you know, emotional level where you except a singer-songwriter to have an advantage, but actually rocks harder. Still, they had a real role in making hard rock “heavy.” And I wouldn’t want to put together the classic rock comp that’s going to play on the Celestial Jukebox at the End of Time without “Highway Star” or “My Woman From Tokyo” somewhere in the mix.

Los Lobos: They made one truly great album. That was enough for Guns N’ Roses, whose great album wasn’t quite as great (though it sold a lot more and caused a lot more head-banging). It’s enough for me to certainly put them under strong consideration. I wish they were a little less professorial, of course. But if rock and roll is truly democratic, surely there must be room for the professors too….Mustn’t there?

Steve Miller: The Hall is often perverse. Should we even be surprised that this very long in coming nomination is for Miller alone and not The Steve Miller Band, which is the title under which he made his records? Sure there were a lot of different people in those bands, but the Hall has made room for similar aggregations before, so who knows what the thinking is. As for the records themselves, I’m obviously putting him ahead of Chicago, even if it’s only a hair. I’m hazy on his early, more critically acclaimed work. It was out of San Francisco so familiarity with it, might make me feel more strongly for or against (in a Grateful Dead, no, Jefferson Airplane maybe, CCR or Sly or Janis, yes, sort of way). Which leaves me wondering if the lead-in riff to “Jet Airliner” is enough to make him worthy all by itself? I lived the Seventies. I very specifically lived 1977. And I have to say it’s a very close call.

Cheap Trick and The Cars: Gee, not a month ago I was gently lamenting that I clearly liked Power Pop a lot better than the Hall did, and here they go and put two of the Big Five on the ballot at once. Granted I don’t listen to either as much as Big Star or Raspberries or the Go-Go’s, but they’re both fine bands and the Cars have the additional lift of being the most popular band in the little-genre-that-couldn’t-quite-save-rock-and-roll-but-sure-had-fun-trying. Hall worthy? Definitely. Possible to vote for one and not the other? Tough call. I think I can manage it. I think I’ll probably have to. Which one?….Which one, knowing that the chances of the three even greater bands being considered in the future ride heavily on how these two do? Which one, knowing that these two have the decided advantage of being mysteriously accepted at “classic rock” formats?…Oh, God.

NO-BRAINER:

Spinners: The premiere vocal group of the seventies, the last decade when the competition was fierce and the distinction therefore amounted to an epic accomplishment. Stop the nonsense. Stop dumping on seventies R&B. Stop dumping on vocal groups. Put them in already, so I can start banging the drum for the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites! (insert maniacal laughter here!)

Final ballot:

Spinners…

Los Lobos…

Cheap Trick….

Janet Jackson…

Chic…

(and a Rodgers and Edwards bonus….)

…First alternate, the Cars…

If you want to participate in fan balloting you can access the Future Rock Legends site here (you have to scroll down a bit). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s actual ballot, which has a very small effect on actual voting (but, I suspect, may have a very real effect on considerations for future nominees) is here.

 

 

 

 

MY MORE OR LESS FAVORITE ALBUMS BY ARTISTS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME (Volume 1: The Sixties)

Just for fun…here’s the rules:

1) I didn’t include solo artists who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of a group or one off groups who contain Hall of Fame members (so no Jerry Butler or Derek and the Dominoes for instance).

2) I didn’t include comps (no Dionne Warwick, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc. who I know mostly through greatest hits packages).

3) I didn’t include anyone who has been inducted in one of the “extra” categories (so no Carole King, since she’s in as a songwriter).

4) I didn’t include anyone who isn’t eligible yet (No Roots or Moby, for instance….you’d be surprised how often this comes up in on-line discussions…for the record, an artist becomes eligible in the “Performer” category 25 years after the Hall determines they released their first record).

5) As the title of this post indicates, I didn’t include artists who have been nominated but not inducted (so no War or Spinners, who would otherwise have multiple entries)

6) This is not an argument that any or all of these acts should actually be in the Hall of Fame. Some should be, some shouldn’t, but I’ve made those arguments elsewhere (you can check the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame category on the right for further details if interested).

All that to keep it simple. Like to 25 or so**. Otherwise it was gonna get complicated. (**Note, that 25 was a general number for the total. Pretty sure it’s gonna be more like 30…or so. I keep remembering.)

So, in roughly chronological order (by year, but I didn’t look up month and day for those in the same year):

The Shangri-Las I Can Never Go Home Any More (1965)

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Note: I’ve never actually owned this album. I do have the original release Shangri-Las 65, which would be worthy on its own. This drops “Dum, Dum Ditty” (perhaps their weakest track) and adds the title track (one of their greatest) so it’s a no-brainer it’s the better album, even before taking the killer cover photo into consideration. I have a private theory that this cast a longer and deeper shadow than Rubber Soul. Me and Amy Winehouse are going to collaborate on a white paper proving this theory next time we get together at the big think tank in the sky. No neocons allowed.

Pick to Click: “Never Again”

Love (1966)

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Note: A racially transgressive sound that’s still radical. Oh, what might have been.

Pick to Click: “Signed DC” (pretty sure the Moody Blues cashed the intro into “Nights in White Satin”…roughly speaking)

Love Forever Changes (1967)

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Note: This is enough of a touchstone of its era it actually creates a backlash of sorts. You can prove how hip you are by preferring some other Love album to this one. Heck, you might even be right. I’ll just make my own distinction by saying several of Love’s other albums are great. This one’s on the order of a miracle. (Even with the guess-you-had-to-be-there cover, which will be a developing theme here!)

Pick to Click: “Bummer in the Summer”

Moby Grape (1967)

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Note: Another touchstone but not too many people insist anything else they did was greater. With reason. Not too much anybody did was greater.

Pick to Click: “Omaha”

Manfred Mann The Mighty Quinn (1968)

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Note: American version of an LP that was called Mighty Garvey in England (with a slightly different track selection). In case that and the cover aren’t 1968 enough for you, it actually has a (wonderful) song called “Cubist Town.” Didn’t sell, even though the title track was a big hit, and didn’t get them any street cred, even though it didn’t sell. I picked it up on a very strange and exhilarating day in 1979 which also involved Boone, North Carolina, a surly record store manager, choir practice, “Beach Baby,” “Cruel War,” a made-for-TV Monkees comp and my first ever speeding ticket. Basically the kind of day you can only have when you’re eighteen. Either that or in a dollar store somewhere a short time later. The memory hazes. Either way, It’s been making me smile ever since.

Pick to Click: “Each and Every Day”

Clarence Carter This Is Clarence Carter (1968)

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Note: Most of the soul giants have at least been nominated. No love for Clarence. Then again he never sounded like a guy who expected to be treated fairly and on his first album, his mournful side meshed perfectly with his definitivelly wicked sense of the absurd.

Pick to Click: “Do What You Gotta Do”

Joe South Introspect (1968)

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Note: Did somebody mention 1968? Based on the cover, South might have been hanging out at Haight-Asbury. He was actually hanging out in Nashville and Atlanta which meant the entire world had gone crazy or he was some kind of visionary who couldn’t be explained by ordinary marketing schemes. I’ll take both. The still, small voice in the back of everyone’s mind, who stayed there even after “Games People Play” broke wide open.

Pick to Click: “Redneck”

The Turtles The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands (1968)

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Note: Chasing cred, they parodied themselves and everybody else. They sort of got the cred and would have really gotten it if the biggest parody (“Elenore”) hadn’t gone top ten everywhere in the English-speaking world. That’s all very representative. It should have been a catastrophe on every level. Instead it came out…wistful. They probably liked themselves better than they thought.

Pick to Click: “Earth Anthem” (or else “Surfer Dan”…some choices really are too existential to permit any sort of oppressive concept like finality)

Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country

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Note: Actually this and Mother Earth’s Living With the Animals got swept away in the great CD selloff of 2002 (along with about 98 percent of the collection I had been building for fifteen years…life’s for making mistakes and regretting them as they say) and I’ve never managed to either forget or replace them. There’s nothing here to match Animals’ “Down So Low” but my memory is that this one was more cohesive. Brilliant in any case and as foundational of the alt-country concept as anything Gram Parsons was involved in.

Pick to Click: “Why, Why, Why”

Nancy Sinatra Nancy (1969)

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Note: The other side of the sixties (a long way from Manfred Mann, let alone Tracy Nelson), where Show Biz never died and still contained multitudes. I said my piece about this one here.

Pick to Click: “I’m Just in Love”

Fairport Convention What We Did on Our Holidays (1969)

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Note: Let’s put it this way. The name of the album is What We Did on Our Holidays. One of the cheerier tracks is called “The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place.” That’s telling it like it is baby!

Pick to Click: “Meet On the Ledge”

Fairport Convention Unhalfbricking

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Note: Oh death, where is thy sting? Right here? No, no, that was our last album. Cheer up lads. Affirmation has arrived. Sort of. Time for the seventies to begin, maybe?

Pick to Click: “Si Tu Dois Partir”

(Volume 2: The Seventies, and Volme 3: The Eighties, to follow…soon, I hope)

ONE MORE DEBT I WON’T GET TO PAY IN THIS LIFE…(Great Quotations)

“Fully 95 percent of the stuff I learned about recording, I learned in the studio with Joe South.”

(Source: Emory Gordy, Jr., quoted in “Joe South: Down In the Boondocks” American Songwriter, March/April 2007)

You never know exactly what you owe or exactly who you owe it to. Some times you get to find out a little.

Though he played with practically everybody (Elvis for starters) and produced more than a few, Emory Gordy, Jr. is most famous these days for being Patty Loveless’ husband and long-time producer. Anybody who doesn’t already know how I feel about Ms. Loveless can type her name in the search button in the upper right hand corner and find out quick enough. Anybody who wants to know how I feel about Joe South can go here for at least a small taste.

And now there’s a solid link between them. Gee, and I already thought I owed Joe a lot.

There are any number of artists’ songbooks I’d like to see Patty have a go at (including very particularly Bob Dylan and Jagger/Richards…she’s already got a pretty fine track record with Hank Williams, though extending it would be another nice idea).

But after encountering that quote above, I just realized that, with apologies to Tom T. Hall, I’d give a hundred dollars to hear her sing this just once:

 

JUST A SUGGESTION…OR TEN (Latest Thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions will take place this weekend. There’s been some predictable kerfluffle about Ringo Starr’s second induction (this time in the “Musical Excellence” category, this in addition, of course, to his induction with the Beatles). You can look it up on the net if you’re interested but it’s basically just politics as usual (something about the deal finally going down when Paul McCartney agreed to do the induction if it happened and then making cheeky comments about the simplicity of it all after it did happen…meaning who knows what really happened.)

This is not actually about that. Ringo’s not the first insider to benefit from his connections at the Hall nor will be be the last (or, I suspect, least deserving). It’s a human institution after all.

But we shouldn’t forget that plenty of others are more deserving. Plenty who haven’t been inducted once…which really ought to finally, at long last, become a major criteria in the Hall’s very human future.

So, in the spirit of improvement and striving ever upward and onward, I’ll post my top ten (of many) picks for future recognition in the Musical Excellence category with a list of their basic credentials and an understood “Visionary Spirit” implied next to each name (I didn’t include Glen Campbell since I already got into that recently and holding it to ten is strain enough as it is):

Thom Bell (Producer, Writer, Arranger):

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The greatest record man of the 1970s. Would be extra nice if he were inducted with his frequent songwriting partner Linda Creed, if only because there’s no way she’ll get in otherwise.

Pick to Click:

Leslie Kong (Producer, Entrepreneur, Talent Scout, Trailblazer):

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There are other great and deserving Jamaican producers. But, whenever the local music broke off the island in the age of its transcendence, it was Kong’s beautiful records–“The Israelites,” “Long Shot Kick The Bucket,” “Vietnam,” significant portions of The Harder They Come soundtrack–forever leading the way.

Pick to Click:

Jackie DeShannon (Singer, Songwriter, Scenester):

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With Sharon Sheeley, half of the first successful all-female songwriting team in the history of American music. On her own, the spiritual godmother of “folk rock” and “singer-songwriter” and relentless behind-the-scenes promoter of both Bob Dylan and the Byrds long before it was cool…even behind the scenes. A member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame who was, against all odds and all sense, an even greater singer.

Pick to Click:

Joe South (Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Sideman par excellence):

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Worthy for his studio session work alone and writer of as many standards as say, the already inducted Laura Nyro (more than the already inducted Leonard Cohen…I could go on). Beyond that, he made records on his own that embodied the best spirit of a great, turbulent age like little else.

Pick to Click:

Jack Nitzsche (Writer, Arranger, Producer, Sideman, Cynosure of Cool):

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One way or another he was in the marrow of career-making and/or groundbreaking records made by practically everybody: Phil Spector, the Wrecking Crew, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Monkees, Neil Young. Oh yeah, he was also the musical supervisor for The T.A.M.I. Show, which ought to be enough to punch his ticket if he had spent the rest of his life at the beach.

Pick to Click:

Al Kooper (Writer, Producer, Sideman, Raconteur):

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This category could have basically been invented for Kooper and frankly, I don’t know what they’re waiting for…Oh, that’s right…McCartney was gabbing with Springsteen and they got to talking about Ringo and one thing led to another and…Oh well, Kooper should be in if he never did anything but play the organ on this little number…

Pick to Click:

Bumps Blackwell (Writer, Producer, Arranger, Bandleader):

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In the 1950s alone, he produced “Tutti Frutti” for Little Richard and “You Send Me” for Sam Cooke (pictured with Blackwell above). He did more–lot’s more. But, really isn’t that enough?

Pick to Click:

Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams (Writer, Producer, Singer, Mastermind, Keeper of the Cosmos’ Most Closely Guarded Secrets):

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I mean, Lou Reed is being inducted (for the second time) this year for being…interesting. Well, that and being dead. But believe me, alive or dead, he ain’t nearly as interesting as the man who, in his own inimitable words, sang about “sex, niggers, love, rednecks, war, peace, dead flies, home wreckers, Sly Stone, my daughters, politics, revolution and blood transfusions (just to name a few).” Then again, neither was anybody else.

Pick to Click:

Chips Moman (Writer, Producer, Entrepreneur):

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He ran the studio with the best name: American. Where Wilson Pickett came to do a ballad. Where Dusty Springfield came when she came to Memphis. Where Elvis came when he came back to Memphis. Where, for a few years, the world came. Believe me, whatever that little studio’s faults, if the world still had such a place, we’d all be a lot better off.

Pick to Click:

Willie Mitchell (Writer, Producer, Band Leader, Sideman, Entrepreneur, Hit-Maker):

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The spirit of Hi Records (home of Al Green, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles in the last truly powerful moment of southern soul’s grip on the national spirit) during its reign of glory.

Pick to Click:

There’s a nice, appropriate way to end a list could be a lot longer.

Suffice it to say there’s a lot of work left to do before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is everything it should be. Hope they get started soon, I’d like to live to see it.

ANOTHER MEMPHIS BOY MADE GOOD…

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(Me, Chris Ellsworth, David Gatchell…Frontenac, Florida, circa 1966…This probably goes without saying, but I’m the cute one)

Congratulations to my nephew, Chris Ellsworth, Memphis Survivor and unanimous selection for induction into this year’s class for the Memphis Amateur Sports Hall of Fame, Slow Pitch Softball Division.

Since this is the only picture I have of him, me, a bat and a glove, I’m going with it even though genius up there stuck the glove in front of his own face….Also I wasn’t sure I had any other way of conveying how obvious it was I taught these boys everything worth knowing, diamond-wise.

Either that, or the grownup with the camera made ’em let me hold the bat for a change!

So here’s a better look:

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I’d be congratulating him anyway…but, specifically for readers of this blog, I should also mention that, if I ever manage to publish the Great American Novel, I’m gonna dedicate it to my parents. But if things go according to plan and I follow it up some day with the Great American Rock and Roll Novel, I’ll be dedicating it to him.

As I explained here, he was the one who got me into music, generally, and Elvis in particular. Before that, all I really knew was hymns, a few folk songs, and “Ode to Billie Joe” (courtesy of a 45 my sister left behind when she got married…and a story I’ll save for another day).

I never lost my love for any of those things, mind you, but let’s just say I’m glad the world got bigger when it did and how it did. Put another way, this blog probably wouldn’t exist without him.

Anyway, that picture at the top is a pretty good symbol of our relationship.

He’d come to live with us for a while. We’d bond. He’d go back to Memphis (or, later on, wherever). We’d lose touch. A few years would pass. Then he’d come back and we’d pick up wherever we left off.

Still works that way.

My only regret about his softball career is that I didn’t get to see him play more. Then again, I know enough about life by now to be grateful for the times I was there.

For what it’s worth–in case, you know, you wonder about his credentials–he played softball at its highest level. When he got into his forties, he started telling the youngsters he’d retire when they outhit him.

That didn’t happen.

Only one that caught him in the end was Father Time.

As for us?….Well, our paths sometimes bend away from each other for a while, but they always meet again in the end.

I’m glad they met in time for this….And I’m glad I had at least one memento to share here that goes back to the beginning.

Per the link below….

I don’t recall any skinny-dipping or drag-strips.

Grandma didn’t have a cow.

Florida ain’t Georgia and neither is Memphis.

But that doesn’t really matter.

One other thing I’ve learned, not just from Joe South.

Home is a state of mind.

Spring Street, my Brother.

Who knew….

(Thanks to Lisa Dollar for scanning the pix!…David G, Paul….if you’re out there and by some chance in a million happen across this, get in touch!)

WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (Wilbert Harrison and Dale Hawkins Demonstrate–Yet Again–That the Revolution was Bottomless)

North of fifty, it’s exceedingly rare to find myself listening to anything “new” with the old addictive spirit of youth. This week it happened twice.

The month’s entertainment budget went to acquiring a couple of 1969 releases by one-hit wonders from the fifties, one of which I’d been chasing for thirty-plus years, the other I just heard about a few weeks ago.

Wouldn’t you know they link up, there in the shadows–though not as obviously as I might have suspected if I was into suspecting things.

After “Susie Q” (circa 1957) Dale Hawkins released a string of follow-ups that–after the manner of the insanely competitive times–didn’t go anywhere. His original guitarist, James Burton (all of fifteen when he played “Susie Q”’s classic riff) soon hooked up with Ricky Nelson on his way to Merle Haggard, Elvis and a career’s worth of legend-building session work. Hawkins went behind the scenes (promotion, production, the usual) and knocked around the music industry for most of the new decade, waiting, as it turned out, for his sound to come back in style.

By the late sixties, it had.

Creedence kicked off their staggering run of mind-blowing singles with a revival of Hawkins’ hit. A sub-genre called “swamp rock,” which in theory was updated rockabilly, but in practice reached as far as Joe South and Vegas-era Elvis, was soon in full swing. That–plus his decade’s worth of contacts in the Music Biz–was no doubt why Hawkins was able to convince somebody to let him make an album, called L.A., Memphis and Tyler, Texas, after the three cities he recorded it in.

I never heard about it until a few weeks ago when Kim Morgan wrote about one of its tracks here. Having lived with it a bit now, I can’t say I’m as taken with Dale’s version of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” as she is, but it’s certainly interesting and I’m grateful for her take in any case because it led me to the rest of this. Hawkins wasn’t the greatest singer in the world, but he was committed. His was one of those voices rock and roll had let through the gate and it’s to his credit that, after a decade spent wandering around inside the castle walls, he had not reached a point of taking anything for granted.

You can hear the peak of the result here (I’m pretty sure ZZ Top got their entire career out of the opening riff), but the whole album’s a grabber:

Wilbert Harrison’s path was more than a little similar to Hawkins’. He was a bit older and he was hard-core R&B where Hawkins was hard-core rockabilly, which meant he had a place to go when he, too, failed to follow up an epic hit (“Kansas City”) with any chart success at all. He was able to make a living on the one-nighter-in-the-local-bucket-of-blood trail that is always available to anybody with a hit in their shady past who is willing to stick with it. Eventually he turned himself into a one-man band–presumably to cut expenses–and his persistence finally paid off in a chance to make an album with New York record man Juggy Murray, one of those independent hustler/promoter types who Dale Hawkins might have become with only the smallest twist of the Fate Dial.

I got onto the resulting album, Let’s Work Together, the way I suspect a lot of people did–in the “Treasure Island” portion of Greil Marcus’ Stranded, first published in 1979. There are albums on that list I still haven’t heard but every once in a while, no matter how broke I am, I get in a certain “Hey thirty-four years is long enough and it’s cheap on Amazon” kind of mood. I figured it would make a nice double bill with Hawkins and it does.

But they run in opposite directions.

While Hawkins’ LP is a clear (and successful) attempt to update his basic ethos–to move forward–Harrison went back beyond the beginning.

I don’t know what exactly possessed him to reach back behind the hard-driving, urban R&B that had once made him famous (however briefly) and drop an album-length field holler–complete with a version of Fats Domino’s segregation-era “Blue Monday” that sounds both ancient and prescient, as though Jim Crow had never really ended (ancient) and never really would (prescient)–into the Age of Aquarius.

Maybe it was just good old artistic integrity. It’s sure hard to believe anybody meant to sell records that way in 1969.

But sell records he did.

Despite (I don’t think there was any “because”) a vocal which utterly belies the optimism of its presumed message, the title track became one of the most unlikely hits (#32 on the Hot 100) of the entire revolution and, in its full album version (see below), it, along with the rest of the album, proved one of history’s oldest lessons.

If you want to look forward, look back.

“Let’s Work Together” is the furthest thing from slick imaginable. It makes even Dale Hawkins sound like Mel Torme. Heck, it makes the Wilbert Harrison of “Kansas City” sound like Mel Torme. But, in 1969 and now, it served/serves as a nice reminder that the basics upon which the disco-fied, hip-hopping future would be built went back much further than James Brown, or Fats Domino, or, for that matter, Jim Crow.

And, no matter how well I think I’ve learned these lessons, it’s always nice to be reminded by something that has a good beat to it even if I can’t dance a lick.

 

WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (Little Steven Takes the Easy Way Out…)

I love Little Steven Van Zandt’s Underground Garage radio show, especially when I catch it in the car.

It’s got three basic things going for it. The first is the host’s personality (key to any successful radio show). Second is the chance to hear music I would never hear anywwhere else and make judgments on it. Third, and most significant for me, is the chance to hear familiar music re-contextualized. At its best, the show does what modern radio so seldom does–hooks you.

The one small fly in the sea of ointment is Van Zandt’s occasional tendency to indulge a bit of uber-hipness, which, oddly, cuts against the grain of the whole enterprise (he’s not, for instance, afraid of praising the Monkees or Herman’s Hermits).

This week, driving home on a Saturday night, I heard one of those re-makes which was sufficiently different from the original that I couldn’t place it until I heard the chorus.

Turned out to be some obviously punk-ish version of “Yo-Yo” (which I have posted in the past and can be viewed again here), a hit for the Osmonds in their brief run of genius before some idiot induced them away from Memphis’ American Studios, songs like “Yo-Yo,” and any chance of being real long-term competition for the Jackson 5 (an idea that isn’t nearly as heretical as some might assume–the American period was the only time the Osmonds had a similar level of musical support to what the Jacksons got at Motown, and while the difference between the two groups vocally was real, in the words of John T. Chance, I wouldn’t want to live on the difference).

Anyway, when the deliberately off-key remake was followed by Deep Purple’s hit version of “Hush,” I thought maybe there was some kind of Joe South tribute going on (he wrote both songs).

Turned out that wasn’t the case, though when Steven came back on the mike he did mention that South wrote both songs and remarked on the oddity of the same man writing a big hit for both the Osmonds and Deep Purple in the same era. Unfortunately, that was only after he had claimed the “Yo-Yo” remake (by the Doughboys as it turned out) had made the song “kinda cool.”

Which I heard with a touch of bemusement because my first thought when I realized the song was actually “Yo-Yo” was along the lines of “Too bad Steven didn’t have the stones to play the Osmonds.”

I had that thought because the Osmonds’ version smokes the Doughboys seven ways from Sunday.

And it would have taken some moxy for Little Steven to admit as much, right there in the Underground Garage.

Besides which, “cool” is such an elusive concept:

 

GOOD MAN GONE…MEMORIES REMAIN (JOE SOUTH, R.I.P.)

(As I’ve noted, my life is a little topsy-turvy right now, so I missed the great Joe South’s passing a couple of weeks back…Hence, I’m a little late but I couldn’t let this one go by.)

Joe South “Don’t it Make You Want To Go Home” (Studio)

The Osmonds “Yo-Yo” (Television performance)

Joe South “Redneck” (Studio)

In 1981 I was majoring in English at Florida State and living in a studio apartment a block off campus.

The apartment complex had a couple of notable features beyond cheap rent and a location that allowed an easy walk to class.

The first feature was the roaches–legendary in college apartments to be sure, but this place had gone a little above and beyond the call. It attracted a particularly high class of survivor-roach and it attracted them in even greater than usual numbers. There were some occasions when my college budget (which had taken every penny I earned working for my dad between the ages of nine and seventeen in the first two months back in the fall of 1980 and was now being abetted by a job as a courier for a real estate company) could cover roach-traps.

Alas, these traps usually filled up within a day or two and my budget allowed for a replacement somewhere along the lines of once a quarter.

The upshot was that, when I was in college, I became very proficient at killing cockroaches with my bare hands. My roaches being of the gone-into-a-crack-less-than-one-second-after-the-light-comes-on variety rather than the don’t-worry-I’ll-just-waddle-along-the-open-floor-here-while-you-get-the-fly-swatter variety, it was either that…or let them go.

After about six months I had developed a deep aversion to letting the little so-and-so’s escape.

If I woke up in the morning and there were, say, half-a-dozen in the kitchen sink, I could forgive myself if one got away. Killing six roaches in less than a second–with your bare hands and within a minute of waking up–is no small feat even when you are young and strong. If there were less than six, however, and one slipped off, I usually entered a state of semi-catatonic depression which was likely to last until I got a chance to wipe out the next brigade.

That was one feature of the Jefferson Arms on Jefferson Street, a long block from the building where I plied my major.

The other feature involved the hot and cold water handles on the sink faucet in the bathroom.

They turned opposite ways.

Let me just tell you that having faucet handles which are not synchronized is a much quicker path to contemplation of suicide than sharing a place with endless legions of German cockroaches.

I mean it might not have been so bad, except that the entire water service shut off so frequently. This meant that about once a month or so you would be using this particular sink–and almost certainly have both faucets wide open to make up for the lack of water pressure–and then have to guess which way the countervailing handles were supposed to turn when the water suddenly stopped flowing.

Now, is it the right side that turns clockwise or the left?

Somehow, I could never bring myself to write it down. Pride I guess. Or fear that if I acknowledged my low state of affairs in this clinical, unromantic, way it might lead directly to the situation becoming permanent–not an irrational thought for those of us who turned to English-majoring in college because we had no plan for life beyond it!

Often as not, then, old habits asserted themselves and you just absent-mindedly turned the faucets the way they were supposed to go.

Which meant you better be there when the water came back on, because if you weren’t, you were the one responsible for the complex’s monthly flood.

One day in 1981, I was the one responsible.

I can tell you generally how it happened.

I was in a hot hurry to get to work.

Whether the specific cause of my hurry on this particular day was just the usual tight schedule (stiff walk from class, grab a baloney sandwich, run to the Maverick, get to work on time!) or a Hayley Mills movie on one of Ted Turner’s cable stations (I swear no other living creature could make me late for work…and I don’t mean Ted Turner!) I do not recall.

Suffice it to say that when I did get back from work that evening there was a note on my door to see the management–and a very wet apartment.

Evidently, mine was one of the worse floods.

I was on the ground floor and my next door neighbor wasn’t home either, so the water had to get all the way out the front door before anyone noticed.

Management was lenient. I had been drenched from above on two previous occasions and my prompt reporting (of course I was home when it was somebody else’s apartment!) had prevented some real damage (the truly dreaded kind that might have made re-threading the faucet handles cost-effective or something).

My next door neighbor was sweet about the whole thing. We agreed on seventy-five dollars for damages and I was only a couple of days late paying her off.

Her cocker spaniel had been frightened out of his wits but was otherwise unharmed.

So the only lasting effect of the flood I was responsible for was on my record collection.

*   *   *   *

In those days–five years into my habit–I could fit all my vinyl LPs in a single double-shelf case my father had custom built for me.

I still have the case, which was built to hold between two hundred and two hundred and fifty LPs (depending on how many doubles were included)

Despite sitting on the floor, it emerged unscathed.

So unscathed I can no longer pick it out from its thirteen matching companions, all of which I built myself as the years and the records accumulated.

These days, the cases are all full.

Back then, thankfully, the flood only reached the bottom shelf of that one case–and there were probably less than dozen records down there.

Over the years, I replaced a few, simply because the jackets became too warped and moldy (though, oddly, never the records–it was as if they were charmed somehow).

Dusty Springfield’s Golden Hits (replaced).

Diana Ross and the Supremes Greatest Hits (replaced–I was enough of a snob to have them filed under S, where they by God belonged!)

Tanya Tucker’s Greatest Hits on Columbia (replaced).

Some of the others–because they were too hard to find or simply weren’t damaged badly enough to warrant bothering with it–stayed on as permanent reminders.

The true survivors.

The Who’s Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (survivor).

The Shangri-Las’ Golden Hits on Mercury (survivor).

….Joe South’s Greatest Hits (survivor).

*   *   *   *

What strikes me now about that list is how important they all were–and are.

How much every purchase counted in those days of desperately low finance countered by an equal and opposite need to know what was hiding behind those cellophane wrappers in the record store.

How easy it was to listen to those albums all the way through every time I put them on.

That’s a heavy list up there. Filled with artists who either are or should be in whatever Hall of Fame exists for their kind of music.

I don’t say Joe South necessarily does or does not belong in any Halls except those he’s already in (Nashville Songwriters and Georgia Music)–though it’s easy to imagine him having earned such accolades already (say the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the national Songwriters Hall) if his brother’s suicide in the early seventies hadn’t taken the heart out of him.

But, based on the music he did get to make, he definitely belongs in that high company.

South made some great music as a sideman.

The rattlesnake guitar on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”–which sounds like a soundtrack of the entire sixties–is his, as is the heavy lifting on significant parts of Bob Dylan’s earth-shaking Blonde on Blonde.

He made some wonderful music as a producer (the hit run of the very under-rated Billy Joe Royal as well as Friend and Lover’s Devil’s Island classic “Reach Out in the Darkness,” among others).

God knows he made some truly great music as a songwriter and God knows that music traveled.

There aren’t too many writers who can claim to have written standards that crossed from swamp-rock (South’s own hits) to countrypolitan (Lynn Anderson’s “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”) to teen-pop (the Osmonds’ “Yo-Yo”) to heavy metal (Deep Purple’s “Hush”) without sounding the least bit forced or scatter-shot.

South was one who could.

For all that, I still value him most as a singer because I still go back to how well that slightly moldy Greatest Hits album (which didn’t even include “Redneck”–one of his greatest songs and, given when and where it was recorded, likely his boldest) stood up in the elite company of my early record collection.

His versions of those great songs were always the equal of anyone who covered them, up to and including Elvis (who smoked “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” live) and Swamp Dogg (who recorded a version of “Redneck” which is my favorite South cover). This was despite the fact that South in no way possessed a classically great voice and in no way attempted the kind of obvious affectation we now associate with the Bob Dylan school of persona-management.

He was great because he had an extremely rare quality–the knack for just being. (And, hey, if the knack really was an affectation, it was sufficiently disguised in his case to amount to the same thing, which would make him rarer still.)

He was great because Rock and Roll used to demand that of people and he was one of those who lived up to the challenge.

He was great because he lived in angry times and he wasn’t afraid to take them on–as Dave Marsh and others have pointed out, it took real courage for a southern white man who had no intention of going anyplace else to start a hit song in the voice of an angry populist and end it by shouting “Furthermore, to hell with hate,” in the year that George Wallace was making a serious run at the presidency. I would only add that it also took a touch of genius to make this sound as natural as breathing.

And he was great because he lived in times like any other and he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that either. There’s never going to be an age when “Don’t it Make You Want To Go Home” or “I Knew You When” or, heck, “Yo-Yo,” don’t speak to somebody’s life and so there’s never going to be a time when Joe South, who had his two biggest hits with protest records that were as rooted in the special circumstances of their time and place as any music could be (and turned out to be transcendent after all), won’t have a chance to sneak up on somebody and change their life, too.