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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: The Turtles---It Ain't Me Babe (1965)

     The Turtles have long been under appreciated as sort of light weight. Of course, just listening to oldies radio would give you the impression that they only had one hit, maybe two (Happy Together and I Know She'd Rather Be With Me"). However, from 1965 to 1970, they had a string of top flight singles that showed strong songwriting ability and a wonderfully quirky sense of humor.

      The success of the group revolved around the talents of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, but the songwriting also included other members of the band and the arraigning skills of Chip Douglas. The song, It Ain't Me Babe, was written by Bob Dylan in 1964 and was first included on his album, "Another Side of Bob Dylan" and was covered that same year by Johnny Cash. The Turtles released it on their debut album in 1965 and it went to #15

     1967 was to be the big year for The Turtles and did well on the charts through 1969 where pressures on Kaylan and Volman from their record company (which was basically relying on them for all revenues) to change their image AND dump the rest of the band resulted in them just breaking up the group in 1970.

     Kaylan and Volman spent the early 70's working with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (which is where they got the stage name, 'Flo & Eddie') for a couple of years, then could be found working on many albums as diverse as T. Rex, Alice Cooper and Bruce Springsteen. They have worked on soundtrack albums and are now touring as "The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie".

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Troggs--Wild Thing (1966)

     One of the things that make for a classic song is the opening riff. Rock classics are many times defined by something that simple. The chord structure of "Wild Thing" is about as easy as it gets, but has endeared itself to millions of garage band guitar heroes......

       The song itself was written by Chip Taylor, who's real name is James Wesley Voight, Jon Voight's brother. It was recorded first by The Wild Ones in 1965. Then The Troggs recorded made it a #1 hit in the US in 1966. They ended up with several hits here in the states up to 1968, and broke up a year later. They reformed in 1974 and has had varying success since, but will always be known for one of the greatest garage band hits ever....

Rush--Fly By NIght (1975)

    Today Geddy Lee turns 58....

     When any of us talk about the music that we gravitated to in younger days, it usually revolves around a time period and genre. It's a natural occurrence. For me it was Progressive Rock and British Folk of the early 70's....

       Most of the groups from that era never fully got out of the 70's. Oh yeah, there have been countless re-formations and reunions, but after about 1976-78 the bloom was mostly off the rose. But counter to what many music critics had predicted (and hoped), it has held itself together enough through the 80's to have a bit of a renaissance in the 90's with a new generation. 

     The one group that has not only defied those ups and downs, but arguably is more popular now than ever is Rush. Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and Neil Peart have combined to make great music that is full of energy and life over 40 years after their formation. Progressive Rock is a bit of a pretentious style of music by definition, but there are two reasons why I believe they are still getting it done...

      The first is ego. The pretension of progressive rock would many times in those early years bleed over into the lives of those making the music. (Or some would suggest...the other way around). Many of the great groups of that era would either shift personal like crazy (Yes, King Crimson), or would annoy either other to the point of numbness (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer). Watching Rush perform is like watching three guys who have been through it all together and revel in the fact that now in the later stages of their lives and careers they are having more fun now than ever.

      The second reason is they never allowed themselves to be defined by a category. Their first few albums were more straight ahead rock and roll, which made them darlings of the FM music crowd. By the late 70's they were shifting more into progressive territory, but because of the inroads caused by the first few albums, they were never put into the same progressive box as the others. In addition, they have spread out and added other elements into the music. By the early 80's, they were experimenting with new wave and reggae sounds. This ability to incorporate other elements of music is one of the reasons it has remained so fresh over the years.  

      Geddy Lee's distinctive tenor and excellent bass work has defined him as one of the best in rock music. Having said that, I will fully admit that they are an acquired taste, but over the years they have passed by many of their critics (in some cases just plain outlived them), continue to make interesting music and seem to be fully enjoying what they do. The only thing my opinion is their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which at this point is a crime they have not made it already....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pink Floyd--Us and Them (1973)

    We celebrate Rick Wright's birthday today....he would have been 68.

     Wright's keyboard's were an integral part of the classic sound of Pink Floyd, but what was sometimes under appreciated was his skills as a songwriter (as you hear below).  There are not many albums (non-Beatles division) that I can regularly go to and listen from beginning to end and still have a fantastic listening experience. The combo of "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" still do for me after all of these years.    


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bobby Gentry: Ode to Billy Joe (1967)

      Bobby Gentry was born Roberta Lee Streeter and most notable in music history as the one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own song, much of which was written based on her Mississippi roots. She was raised by her grandparents after her parent's divorce until the age of 13 when she went to live with her mother who had moved to California. After graduation she started at UCLA, then transferred to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to develop her songwriting skills. During her time in college she sang in clubs until signed to a contract with Capitol records in 1967.

     "Ode to Billy Joe" is a brilliant work of  Southern Gothic writing. The song itself won 8 Grammys, three for Gentry and one for producer Jimmie Haskell who's understated arraignment fit the song perfectly (the glissando by the strings near the end stick as much in the listener's as well as any lyrical hook). It was actually recorded as a "B" side, but DJ's soon flipped it over. Gentry's herself had no idea what happened to Billie Joe....

     "Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two
more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of peoples' reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown when both women experience a common loss (first Billie Joe, and later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief."

    It's popularity and endurance led Warner Brothers to commission author Herman Raucher to write a novel and screenplay based on the song. Of course, this not only popularized the song again, but has led many to actually believe it was a true event. She had more success on the charts and on television worldwide (especially in Europe) up through the mid-70's.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Happy Birthday to Mick Jagger....

     Today Mick Jagger is 68 today....

      Just by sheer numbers, one has to admit that The Rolling Stones are the greatest band in rock history. This doesn't mean the best, although one cannot argue the long ranging influence they have had on millions of up and coming artists throughout the decades. The quality level of the group's music over the years is quite astounding.

      Over the 40 years I've been keeping up with the Stones, it always seemed to me that Mick had a center to him which allowed them to be able to move ahead rather then getting into a rut either musically or emotionally. Despite a couple of high profile drug busts (in 67 and 70), one never got the feeling that his life was out of control, like his writing partner Keith Richards did throughout the 70's. He freely admits of partaking of the lifestyle that his money and fame would allow, but the death of Amy Winehouse last week reminds us again, that for many artists a solid core goes a long way in surviving the lure of excess.

      Much is made of their R&B core, especially over the last 20 years or so, but when you strip away their love of the genre, they just know their way around a hook. Much like the Beatles, they used their pop/rock singles in the mid 60's as an opportunity to stretch themselves and point the way to a generation of musicians that were to be defined as much by the long player as they were the single (although the Stones and Beatles were pros at both).

       We wish a happy birthday to Mick, and continued success.....

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Ardells--Eefananny (1963)

      One of the strangest things I've come across in studying popular music has been "eefing". It's direct roots seems to be from Tennessee, where in an earlier generation it was called, "hooodling". There is an audio clip of Jimmie Riddle, who was considered a master of the form breaking the sounds down. Unfortunately I can't up load it, but if you go to You Tube you can hear it there.  He doesn't really explain it...but it's very funny to listen to. He was probably best known for doing his thing on the old CBS show, "Hee Haw"....
 There are examples of "Eefing" in Rock and Roll as well with the best charting example of it being Joe Perkins with 1963, "Little Eefing Annie". For us, we will suffice with The Ardells doing a song which was a spoof of the folk hootenanny movement of the early 60's....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: Steely Dan--My Old School (1973)

     I know, I know...this isn't a "hidden" classic, but it's a classic nonetheless. We went out to see a Steely Dan tribute band last night (and if you think that's don't know your Dan very well), and was blown away. The name of the band is "Twelve Against Nature" and are made up of some of Nashville's best musicians. From the beginning of the show until the encore, the musicianship was outstanding. The arraignments were many times spot on to the originals, but with just enough improvisation  to keep you on your toes. Watching the band members mix like perfect pieces to a complex puzzle, one admires the talent of the band playing, but even more so, one again pay respect to Steely Dan.

     Looking back they were a perfect band for the 70's. For many who liked jazz, the charts were full of chordal and rhythmic twists and turn, but never went fully jazz. They always had an eye for the commercial, but forced listeners to come into their seamy world of characters that were a snapshot of the underbelly of society. The lyrical content was as layered as the music with the wordplay alternating between fun and just plain dense. All of this and much of it was danceable as well (don't think lightly of this, some of their greatest success on the charts was during the disco era)  Given the optimism of much of the 60's, Fagen and Becker mirrored much of the cynicism of the 70's. All of those things created a sound that was popular in it's day but has more than stood the test of time. Complex music that you can dance too....that's generally too much to ask for in a band, but then again, Steely Dan makes it happen, even after all of these years.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Penguins--Earth Angel (1954)

    Tenor Cleveland Duncan turns 76 today....

    The Penguins only had one hit on the pop charts, but what a song it was. Written by Jessie Belvin and Curtis Williams (who was a bass/baritone with the group), the group reached No. 8 on the charts (#1 on R&B). As was a common practice because of segregated radio, The Crew Cuts did their version and reached #1 in 1955. They signed a contract with Mercury (who wanted The Penguins)  as a 2 for 1 deal where the company received The Penguins and The Platters which were managed by the same guy. Ironically enough, The Platters did well, while after one top 20 R&B hit, never charted again. The group saw turnover through the years, but Cleveland Duncan was a constant and as of 2001 were still touring.  Interesting note: They named themselves after Willie the Penguin which was the cartoon advertising character for Kool cigarettes. (get it, the group is cool??).

Friday, July 22, 2011

John Ashley--Little Lou (1961)

     As you view this clip...notice the voice narration and the last credit before the clip goes off.
      That voice belongs to John Ashley, who also produced the show, which was by far his biggest claim to fame.

       That doesn't mean however that he wasn't a busy man. While on a vacation in California in 1956,  a friend from Oklahoma State University got him onto the set of the John Wayne  movie The Conquerer, and Wayne steered him toward a job in television in the William Castle series Men of Annapolis. A year later, Ashley was at the offices of American International Pictures to pick up his girlfriend, who was auditioning for a part in the company's Dragstrip Girl. AIP house writer Lou Rusoff saw Ashley waiting in the hall and decided the young man was the type AIP was looking for to play the male lead in the movie!! (He must have been really photogenic....)

     This began a career in the movies, but someone picked up on the fact that he had a voice as well, and for about 5 years put out singles, mostly in a rockabilly style. They went nowhere, but are of interest all the same. Ashley has had a very busy career with some TV and lots of  "B" movies. The most famous of those are the "Beach Party" movies of the early and middle 60's. (Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.). Sometimes in the mid/late 70's, he began a career as a producer and in 1983, landed the gig as producer of the A-Team. He's stayed very busy since then producing movies and television. But with a handful of singles, we remember Ashley as a singer......

Thursday, July 21, 2011

P.P. Arnold--The First Cut is the Deepest (1967)

      P.P. Arnold toured with Ike and Tina Turner as an Ikette for a few years in the mid-60's. During a gig in London, Mick Jagger was impressed enough with her singing that he suggested to their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to his new record label Immediate Records. She quit her gig with the Turners and stayed in London to concentrate on her solo career. Arnold had her major success in Britain during the late 60's and has had what could be considered an on again/off again career, although has always kept busy either performing on the stage, doing solo work, or studio work for others.

      "The First Cut is the Deepest" was written by Cat Stevens (who celebrates his 63rd birthday today), although Arnold was the first to release it in May of 1967. Stevens had made a demo of the song before Arnold, but at the time just wanted to be a songwriter, so it wasn't until September of that year that his actual recording was done. The song has been covered many times, most notably by Rod Stewart in 1977 and Sheryl Crow in 2003....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Santana--Black Magic Woman (1970)

     Carlos Santana turns 64 today...

     Carlos Santana's break into music occurred in a very 60's styled manner. One Sunday afternoon at the Filmore West, Bill Graham was having to put together an impromptu band, since Paul Butterfield was too drunk to show. He was looking for a guitarist when someone suggested that Carlos could do it. He did the gig and it went well enough that he soon started the Santana Blues Band with fellow street musicians David Brown, and Greg Rolie.

     The song, "Black Magic Woman" was written by Peter Green, then of Fleetwood Mac in 1968 and appeared on their album, "English Rose" (in the US),  and "The Pious Bird of Good Omen" (in the UK). Santana's version was linked with a song by Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo called "Gypsy Queen". The radio version of the song cuts out most of Szabo's song, but the album version which clocks in at over 5 minutes not only includes it, but really defines the song as distinctly Santana's.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen--Hot Rod Lincoln (1972)

     George Frayne (Commander Cody) celebrates his 67th birthday today....

     There are two things that distinguish Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. One was George Frayne's distinctive boogie woogie piano, and the other was their brand of straightforward rock and roll, rockabilly, jazz, country and western swing. Many rock groups were forming around country. The Eagles, Poco among others, but Cody and the band has a harder edge to them, which gave them the look and feel of a really hot bar band. It's a title which suited them well and their legendary marathon concerts confirmed. Interestingly enough, Frayne has a Masters in education, and taught part of a year at Wisconsin State University while co-founder John Tichy received his PhD in engineering at Georgia State.  

     "Hot Rod Lincoln" was written by Charlie Ryan in 1955 as an answer song to "Hot Rod Race" which was recorded by Arkie Shibley and this Mountain Dew Boys. Ryan himself recorded the song twice, once in 1955 under the name "Charlie Ryan and the Livingston Brothers, and the better known version in 1959 under, "Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders". Of course, Cody's version was the most popular reaching No. 9 on the charts in 1972.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Raspberries--Tonight (1973)

    Ok....I'm in a hurry this morning...AND today is guitarist Wally Bryson's birthday (he's 62). But really it just gives me a chance to play a song from a group that just now is beginning to get it's due as a deeply influential band. Along with Big Star, and Badfinger, The Raspberries literally began what we know now as power pop music. The blend of Beach Boys style harmonies, rockers that sounded a bit like The Who, and a Beatles style sensibility as a blend least for this young teenager (at the time) was intoxicating. They always had a bit of an image problem, being marketed as a band aimed for young teenagers, when the band themselves sought to be taken more seriously. The tensions caused within the band because of this eventually split them up after 3 years and a handful of classic songs. Here's to my favorite band from the 70's....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: Desi Arnez--I Love Lucy (1953)

   Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball are one of the most iconic couples in the history of television. There was a chemistry between them that was obvious on screen, and along with Vivian Vance and William Frawley created a show that has endeared itself to millions of fans now for 60 years. What many do not know is that Arenz and Ball both were shrewd business people who were pioneers in television production as well. 

      In the early 50's television shows were done live from New York, then sent to other station via kinescope images which was unstable, and in just the time it took to send the images to other networks, the picture quality began to deteriorate (which is why there are so few complete shows from that era). Arnez and Ball lived in California and did not want to have to travel to New York, so they convinced CBS to put the show on tape, which was more costly. Arnez also insisted on using three cameras instead of the one that was always used.  CBS, nor the show's potential sponsor, Philip Morris, wanted to pay the extra cost. The couple formed Desilu productions and offered to pay the balance of the cost, provided that after the first showing of the sitcom, Arnez/Ball would retrain total control on the film. In agreeing to do this, Desilu began syndicating the show and of course all of the money went to their new business.

       The two of them were hands on executives from the beginning of the company, which became sole ownership of Ball's after their divorce in 1960. The list of shows developed by the company reads like a who's who of popular TV in the 60's: Star Trek, Make Room For Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show, Mission Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, Family Affair, My Three Sons, The Untouchables, I Spy, Mannix, Our Miss Brooks, Gomer Pyle USMC and That Girl were only a few of the shows under the Desilu banner....

       Arnez himself came from a family of wealth in Cuba. His father was the youngest mayor in the history of Santiago, and also served in the Cuban House of Representatives. His mother's father, Alberto de Acha was one of the three founders of Bacardi Rum. His childhood and early teenage years were ones of privilege. However after the Bastista led revolution in 1933 all of their property and money was confiscated as the elder Arnez was put in jail. The US government, who determined Arnez to be neutral, negotiated for his release and the entire family was moved to Miami. 

    Desi started out in show business to support himself and starred on Broadway in the musical "Too Many Girls". He was offered a part in the film version of the play and he went to Hollywood where he met Lucille Ball, and the couple married in 1940. His band recorded and toured and along with film roles, was doing very well. The idea of him being in a show with Ball was her idea for them to be able to spend more time together. His recording and touring began to slow and finally stop between the acting and the running of Desilu productions. 

      Arnez's version of the title song is delightful and brings back memories of not just Desi, but his Lucy who together made entertainment history....enjoy and happy Sunday!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Linda Ronstadt--You're No Good (1974)

     Linda Ronstadt turns 65 today....

     She had a top 30 song in 1970 with 'Long, Long Time', and a country hit in 74' with, 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles'. However the woman with the gorgeous voice couldn't make a connection. on vinyl. She had a cult following due to her previous four albums partially because of her voice, partially because of her killer good looks (and as a young teenager...I did extensive research on this subject). No one doubted her talents, but finding a way to harness it was another thing altogether. She seemed a bit unfocused at first, but with each release became more assured of herself and her ability to choose material that was right for her.

     The key to unlocking everything turned out to be Peter Asher. She had chosen him to be the producer of her fourth album ('Don't Cry Now') on the advice of James Taylor's sister Kate. His biggest contribution was to let Ronstadt take charge of the studio, and to provide stellar arraignments to back her interpretative skills. There was improvement in not only her song selection, but in the arrangements of voice to band.  The next album, "Heart Like a Wheel", was very close to perfect for Linda, for the times, and (in my opinion) the best she has ever done. It began her huge success in America which gave her the financial and creative freedom to follow her muse wherever it took her....and for those who have followed her over the years, you know it has taken her to MANY places. Asher, by the way remained her producer up to the late 80's.

      "You're No Good" was written by Clint Ballard Jr. and was first a hit for Betty Everett in 1963 reaching #51. In 64', the Swinging Blue Jeans had a hit with it in the UK actually reaching the bottom of the charts here in the US as well. But it was Linda's take on the song, and Andrew Gold's prowess on virtually all of the instrumentation that took it to number 1 and the first of 11 to reach the top 20. ...Happy Birthday Linda.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bobby Vinton--Roses Are Red (My Love) (1962)

     Bobby Vinton feared the end of his singing career was done before it had even got started. After getting his college degree from Duquesne University in music composition, he did a two year stint in the military serving as a Chaplain's assistant. Upon his discharge, Vinton got a contract from Epic records as a band leader. However after a couple of albums and several flopped singles, the record company was ready to let him go. 

     "Roses Are Red (My Love)" was written by Al Byron and Paul Evans. It had been submitted to Epic records and rejected. Vinton found the song in the reject pile and liked what he heard. However the record company was not ready to support a rejected song or an artist they were ready to let go. Deciding to promote it himself, Bobby bought 1,000 copies of the single, and hired a young woman to hand deliver each single with a dozen roses. The gimmick gave the record the boost it needed and it soon reached No. 1 for four weeks in 1962 and began a successful career that had hits on the top 40 up until 1974. ....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)

      The Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn is 69 today....

      Much of what we know as rock music today can be traced back eventually to just a handful of artists. The Byrds, led by Roger McGuinn became a touchstone for what would be folk rock, country rock, psychedelic rock, raga rock, and jangle pop. McGuinn's jangly Rickenbacker guitar became as distinctive a sound as any in rock history.

       His sound derived itself from folk music, but with the coming of the Beatles attempted to bring the two together. The resulting music attracted the attention of Gene Clark, and the two of them formed the early incarnation of the group. Many of rock music's influential artists came through the group. Clark, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clarke, and Gram Parsons all spent time as a Byrd.  

      Bob Dylan wrote, "Mr. Tambourine Man" in 1964 and was released on his "Bringing It All Back Home" album in 1965. There has been many attempts to interpret the lyrical content, with Dylan himself saying that at least part of his inspiration came from Federico Felllini's movie "La strada". He has always firmly denied as well that the song had nothing to do with drugs. It took Bob over a year to find the right arraignment that would do it justice. 

      In the meantime, the Byrds had been working on their own version based on an acetate copy of the song that was acquired by their manager. Dylan was brought in after the song had been worked up and his enthusiasm about it's sound spurred them to record it as a single. An interesting note about it's recording. The single was recorded first, and at the time, producer Terry Melcher was not convinced on the rest of the group's ability to play their instruments, so Melcher brought in the famous group of studio musicians, "The Wrecking Crew" to play on the single (and it's B-side, "I Knew I'd Want You") along with McGuinn. By the time they began on the album, he felt they were sufficiently ready, so the rest of the album was recorded with the band.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fleetwood Mac: You Make Lovin Fun (1977)

     Today is Christine McVie's 68th birthday.....

      I became aware of Fleetwood Mac during their "lost" period when Bob Welch was with them (72-74), and of course like many, followed their meteoric rise to the top of the pop world with the additions of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. The voice however that always caught my attention and was such a warm counterpoint to the Buckingham/Nicks axis belonged to Christine McVie...

      McVie was born Christine Anne Perfect in 1943. Her father was a concert violin player and music professor at St. Peter's College. Her mother was a medium, psychic and faith healer. She studied piano as a teenager, and went to college to study sculpture with an eye on becoming a teacher herself. Christine played in her first band during those years but upon graduating split from the group and moved to London.

     She joined the band Chicken Shack in 1968 and stayed there for two albums until meeting John McVie in 1969. They married a year later.

     Christine had already established herself as a top notch singer before her arrival in the Fleetwood Mac camp, having won two Melody Maker awards in 69 and 70 for best female vocalist. With the departure of Peter Green in 1970, the group being adrift and McVie's knowledge of the groups songs already committed to memory, she seemed a natural to join the band on the road. Although it would be another 5 years for them to break through to a world wide audience, one of the major songwriting components for the future success was in place.

      Things didn't go smoothly between her and John, and by the time the "Rumours" album was released, they had separated. The song, "You Make Lovin Fun" was written about an ongoing affair she was having with Mac's lighting director, and was the last single released off of that album in September of 1977. That along with the gorgeous song "Songbird" are two of the many highlights of that record breaking album.

        She is now enjoying her retirement having stopped touring for the first time after the death of her father, however she was on the 1995 album,. "Time" and of course was a part of the 97' album, "The Dance". She went on tour to promote that album, but then went back into retirement after it was over.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band--Mr. Bojangles (1970)

      Today Jeff Hanna, one of the founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band turns 62. 

     The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had been together since 1966, with some success (their original incarnation included Jackson Browne), but were spinning their wheels by 69'.  A trip to Aspen Colorado to reform after several lineup changes and a new producer helped them gain focus. This resulted in the album, "Uncle Charles and His Dog Teddy" which contained the single, "Mr. Bojangles" and became their breakthrough.

     "Mr. Bojangles" was written in 1968 by country singer Jerry Jeff Walker. It had been thought to have been written about entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, but Walker has denied this to be the truth. In his autobiography, Walker was in jail for a brief period in 1965 for public intoxication in Louisiana. During that time he met a homeless man who called himself Mr. Bojangles to keep his real identity from the police. The men in the jail cell talked about all manner of things, but the mood turned heavy when he began talking about his dog. Someone in the cell asked to lighten the mood and so the man obliged with a tap dance.

     The song was the only top 10 single for the group, however, they were seen as very influential in bringing an earlier generation of country singers to a new audience through their album, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" in 1972. In recent years, Hanna, along with Marcus Hummon and Bobby Boyd won a Grammy in 2005 for writing, "Bless the Broken Road" which had been written in 1994, but redone by country group Rascal Flatts. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released an album of new material with 2009's "Speed Of Life"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: The Applejacks--Baby Jane & You're The One (1964)

      With the tidal wave of British music that reached our shores in 1964, it's easy to assume that all it took was an accent and a record contract to make it to the US charts. However, there were more than a few UK bands who seemingly had the goods, but couldn't make the connection with record buyers. The Applejacks were made up of Al Jackson on lead vocals, Martin Baggott on lead guitar, Don Gould on organ, Phil Cash on rhythm guitar, Gerry Freeman on drums, and Megan Davies on bass (quite unusual for that day with a woman in the group). They had a very solid sound, very much like The Beatles of the same vintage. In fact, one of their singles, "Like Dreamers Do" was a Lennon/McCartney composition. They had a couple of top 30 hits in the UK and no real action in the states and after a couple of years of issuing singles that went nowhere, they got a gig on a cruise ship for the rest of the decade before Davies left the band and went into nursing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Automatic Man--My Pearl (1977)

     Automatic Man was a progressive/funk/rock/ band from San Fransisco led by former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve beginning in 1975. They came out with two albums, both gaining a bit of notice and one single that scrapped the bottom of the top 100 in 1977. The first album was fairly progressive in sound with some real jazz overtones. Shrieve left after that first album and their second album, "Visitors" went into a more straightforward funk direction. The band folded shortly afterward, but left us with this tasty single....enjoy!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Donny Osmond--Puppy Love (1972)

     Teen idols normally have a short shelf life. Almost since the beginnings of rock and roll, PR people have figured out that marketing an artist to young teens can boost record sales. However, young teens grow up, and along with it their tastes in music mature as well. The artists that CAN make it beyond those first few years, are the ones who find a way to mature with the audience.

      In the early 70's, there were four teen idols (male department) that vied for the covers of teen magazines. David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Michael Jackson, and Donny Osmond. Of those four, Sherman left the biz altogether when he sensed it was over. Cassidy had a rough go of it for years because he tried to fight the "teen idol" tag and it almost ate him alive. Jackson and Osmond both made the transition to adult star (although admittedly Jackson did more than transition....he transformed his genre).

      Osmond did it by finding his audience early and never leaving their side. His most popular songs in the early 70's were the ballads, and those same teens (and their parents) were the same who watched Donny and Marie, and have continued to keep up with Osmond through the years. Another thing that might have helped him (and Jackson) were the fact that they had siblings (older ones too) that provided a system of peers who understood and encouraged.

      Let's not forget that Donny had the goods as well. You might not like his music, but you cannot deny his multiple talents. If you ever doubted that, watching him win, "Dancing with the Stars" in his early 50's and smiling that Osmond 100 watt smile the whole way should have been a reminder. He has been star on vinyl, on television, and on the stage as well, and continues to cultivate much of the same audience that has followed him since the early 70's.

      1971 was his breakout year and by far his most popular in terms of record sales. Puppy Love was his next to last top 10 (the "Twelfth of Never" was the last one in 1972), but had two others in 72' that were hits as well. Paul Anka wrote the song for Annette Funicello who he was dating at the time.....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to Ringo Starr.....

      Ringo Starr turns 71 today....

     I almost began writing this as a "In Praise Of" blog. Why? Because with all of the fame, and the fortune that comes with it, Ringo always seems to have been on the short end of the stick when it comes to respect. 

      Part of this comes from the era immediately after the break up of the Beatles. The 70's (especially the first few years) was full of musical indulgence and drummers were no different. Looking back now, one has to wonder how many drugs were ingested to survive a 15-20 minute drum solo, but technique and speed were all the rage. Ringo did not excel in that kind of competition and was considered a lesser drummer because of it. Even while with the Beatles, he was seen as not quite fitting with the other three as Ringo was not a proficient songwriter and was not a technically gifted singer.

    But there is much to praise Ringo for......

    First of all....let's go back to the drumming. Looking back at their body of work, it is obvious that very few drummers could have molded his skills to fit what the Beatles were in need of. He did play riffs of complexity as well as that insistent, rock solid backbeat, but never gave the group more then was exactly needed. This is the key in my opinion. In an era where the group ethic would be sacrificed to the God of melodic ego, Ringo was the perfect group member. He gave the group a solid base, while doing what was needed to keep the group moving forward......

    This is where his personality played a big role. Every group needs a who can be a who could bring who brought an off kilter personality to the proceedings. He brought all of that, (although he could lose his temper as well....he was the first Beatle to walk off and quit....but came back when (a). The others begged him to return and (b). He got bored.). No matter how much bickering was going on near the end, all three could still go back to Ringo. This is a factor that many of the books written about the group gloss over, but I personally think it's a very important spice in the mix.

      The post-Beatles time is really where he has shined. Starr is the only one of the four who did more then dabble into movies. (41 to be exact...counting work with the Beatles), and has done work in television as well. Not only this, but for a four year period (71-74), his output musically (chartwise AND in terms of quality) can easily hold up to the work of his former bandmates. His All Star Bands continue to sell out, and just as Paul has moved into his senior years continuing to do quality work, Ringo continues to be Ringo. Loveable, quotable, and thankfully for the rest of us, musical.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bill Haley: Rock Aournd the Clock (1955)

     Bill Haley was born today in 1925....died in 1981.

     For years, this song was labeled, "The First Rock and Roll Song". The whole, "first" thing is quite murky just like most things historically. There are many songs we can point to, from post World War II on, that could grab that title. The fact of the matter is that it was a process that took several years as R&B began to influence white audiences AND performers, this blending continued long later the release of this song.

      On thing that cannot be argued was that Bill Haley was the first, "Rock and Roll Star", and watching his career with the Saddlemen and then with the Comets is like watching the blending of rock, R&B, and country. He started in Western Swing, and from song to song one could here the maturation to Rock and Roll. They had a hit with, "Crazy, Man Crazy", and "Shake Rattle and Roll" prior to "Rock Around the Clock" and in fact had been recorded and released in 1954 but really didn't go anywhere. It was due to it's use in the 1955 movie, "Blackboard Jungle" starring Glenn Ford that it took off.

      His role as a teen idol didn't last long as a slew of artists came to fill the bill better than the 30'ish, slightly chubby Haley. He remained however a force on the charts for the rest of the decade, and until the last couple of years of his life continued to tour. He might not exactly be the, "Father of Rock and Roll", but his influence as the person who became the face of the burgeoning new music cannot be questioned. I chose this version of the song from a live performance in 1955 because it truly rocks compared to the studio recording....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Smiley Lewis--I Hear You Knoking (1955)

      Smiley Lewis was born on this day in 1920 and died in 1966 of stomach cancer at the age of 45....

     Music...and how people respond to it can always be a tricky thing to prognosticate. Take Smiley Lewis and Fats Domino for instance. Although their musical styles are much the same, and Lewis had some success on the R&B charts in the early/mid 50's, it was but nothing like Domino's career trajectory. "I Hear You Knocking" was by far Lewis' biggest hit, and was also covered by Gale Storm and in 1970 by Dave Edmunds.....

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bill Withers--Lean On Me (1972)

      Remember readers.....The Rock and Roll Omnibus is broadcasting live this evening from 9pm--11pm US Central Time. Just go to and check us out. I'd love to hear from you!!!

     Today is Bill's 73rd Birthday....

      Bill Withers took a winding path to success in music. On turning 18, he went into the military for nine years. During that period, he became interested in creating music as a songwriter, and upon his release in 1967 he moved to LA.  He worked during the day and played clubs at night to hone his craft and to get enough money to make demos. Withers made an immediate splash with top 5 hit and Grammy winner, "Ain't No Sunshine".

     'Lean On Me' was written with his hometown in mind. Bill found himself one day missing his home town of Slab Fork, West Virginia...not of his impoverished background, but how the community would tend to it's own. Of his 4 top five was his only No. 1.

     July 4th is the day Americans celebrate independence. This song reminds me that not only Americans, but citizens of the world, are better people when we are givers instead of takers. May it always be so....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: Leapy Lee---Little Arrows (1968)

     Leapy Lee's real name is Graham Pulleyblank and later changed it to Lee Graham. He began his recording career in 1962, and hit the charts with, "Little Arrows" in 1968 (#1 UK, #11 US) which began a number of top 100 hits in the UK (a couple of them reaching the charts in the US). Over the years he has turned into one of Britian's most versatile entertainers branching out into acting on stage and screen, producing, writing, and over the last few years a cabaret act.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Frank Sinatra--Strangers in the Night (1966)

     "Strangers in the Night" is proof that an artist isn't always the best judge of their work......

       The song was written by Bert Kampfert with English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder for the 1966 movie, "A Man Could Get Killed" starring James Garner.
      To my knowledge, the movie didn't do much at the box office, although Kampfert won a Golden Globe award for "Best Original Song in a Motion Picture" in 1967.

      Sinatra recorded this song as the title track for his album released in 1966, and marked a bit of a musical comeback for him. It also was the last album he did with long time conductor Nelson Riddle. He received two Grammy's for the song, and it went to No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts AND the top 100. All of this despite the fact that he despised the song. Am not sure if he thought it would be a hit anyway...but just goes to show you that an artist doesn't always have to like the song....

     By the way...this album has one of my favorite Sinatra songs, "Summer Wind"....if you've never heard's worth the listen. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bobby Day--Rockin Robin (1958)

     I remember hearing Michael Jackson's version of  'Rockin Robin' for the first time in 1972. It occurred to me at that time that the argument on who's the best teen singer was moot.  (yes, there were arguments on who was the best. Donny Osmond, David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman??) Although not realizing it at the time it also introduced me to Bobby Day, at least as a songwriter. Day only reached the top 40 once with this song, but several have covered his R&B influenced music. The Dave Clark Five had a hit with, "Over and Over" and, "Little Bitty Pretty One" was covered by several. ....