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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

     Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are nominees, and like almost all of others, can be debated on the merits of it's recorded output. What is not debatable is mentioning Jett without first talking about The Runaways.
     The Runaways were brought together with the help of Kim Fowley who managed the group and also promoted their jailbait image which unfortunately kept the group from having a real shot at long term success. The core of the the group at the beginning was drummer Sandy West, and Joan Jett (real name: Joan Larkin) and was soon joined by bassist Micki Steele who left soon after the addition of guitarist Lita Ford. Steele would make her own mark on rock later in the 80's with The Bangles. Cherie Currie (vocals) and Jackie Fox (guitar) rounded out the group.
     By the time of the release of their first album in 1976, it was obvious that Cherie Currie was considered the visual centerpiece with her lingerie endorsed bad girl looks. What propelled the band however was a combination of Lita Ford's straight ahead rock hooks, which were already well developed at the age of 17, and Joan Jett's glam influenced power chords. All of this was wrapped up with an urgency which was more than fueled by the punk movement (at least the LA version). What hurt the group overall was Fowley's almost total control over the band which, with a group of teenaged girls came across as exploitative (even in mid-70's west coast). Another problem was the content. Rock in the 70's was fueled by male dominated groups singing about sex, drugs and rock and roll. However, a hearing a group of under aged girls sing about it seemed very uncomfortable for American tastes.
     Currie lasted two albums with the band before leaving with Jett taking the lead role for two albums. However, the musical divide between Jett and Ford was becoming more obvious and with Fowley having left as well, the decision was made to break the band up in 1979. Ford had success in heavy metal during the 80's, but it was Jett who continued to develop the strong glam and punk elements started by The Runaways as she formed The Blackhearts.  (by the way...if you are wanting to see a great film about the group...don't bother with the big budget "The Runaways" (2010), but seek out "Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways" (2005) which was filmed by bassist Vicki Blue)
     Jett recorded a solo album in 1980, and was re-released as "Bad Reputation" and it was here that she began to garner critical and popular acclaim.  The album showed the blueprint for later albums, classic rock and roll with a touch of glam, along with a punk rock ascetic which comes across in attitude as much as the music itself.   The album did fairly well for a debut on the charts (#51), but it's influence on a generation of women rockers was vast. During this time she formed the Blackhearts. The group included Ricky Byrd (guitar), Gary Ryan (bass), and Lee Crystal (drums). The group's first album together, "I Love Rock-n-Roll" (1982) has become a rock classic in an era where the top 40 was dominated by new wave-ish acts. The lead single and it's follow up, a cover of Tommy James', "Crimson and Clover" reach the top 10 and not only expanded her fan base, but cause many more to re-discover her first album, and work with The Runaways.
     The next release, called, "Album" (1983) is arguably her most solid album although it's two singles didn't do as well on the charts. From a chart standpoint she continued the decade on a steady path which was highlighted with the top 10 single, "Hate Myself For Loving You" (1988). However, with each release she continued to cultivate her influence on many of the hard rock groups led by women.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Heart

     The band Heart revolved around sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, although the genesis of the band began before the Beatles hit American shores...

     Bassist Steve Fossen, along with brothers Roger and Mike Fischer began a group called The Army back in 1963. The group went through several names before settling on Heart in the early 70's. This is also the time that Ann Wilson was brought in on vocals.
     Wilson had lived in Southern California and Taiwan before her dad's retirement from the Marines, where they settled in Seattle. She auditioned for the spot in the band in 1970. Mike, who had fled to Vancouver to escape the draft came down to see the band perform and began a romantic relationship with Ann. She persuaded the rest of the band to rejoin Mike in Canada, which they did. The city became home base for them for much of the rest of the decade.
      Nancy, who is four years younger, finished high school then began college. She quit and joined the band in 1974. Soon afterward she began a relationship with Roger. It was shortly after becoming a member that Mike quit to work behind the scenes. John Hannah (keys) and Brian Johnstone (drums) were brought in to fill out the sound.
     By 1975, the group had a healthy following in and around Vancouver. A demo had been made with the help of producer Mike Flicker, who eventually would produce their first five albums, and keyboardist Howard Leese who would become a full member of the band as Hannah and Johnstone had left the group. Michael Derosier became the drummer. 
     The resulting album, "Dreamboat Annie" would be picked up by Mushroom Records in 1976.  After quickly selling 30,000 units in Canada, it was released in the US, where the singles, "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man" both reached the top 40 and the group was on it's way. From early on, it was obvious that the girls had a musical vision of their own, but it was just as obvious that Robert Plant was a large influence on Ann. The album mixed hard hitting rock, with folk ballads (which was also a staple of middle Led Zep influence as well).
     From 1976 to 1980, the band released a series of top flight albums, "Little Queen" (1977), and "Dog and Butterfly" (1978) completed the trio of albums that are essential for anyone who is wanting to get into the groups output. The end of this period ended on a bit of a sour note as the romantic relationship between the Fischer brother and Wilson sisters ended, and a couple of months later the guys left the band. Roger's guitar work would especially be missed as they entered a period that was a bit unfocused. None of the albums, "Bebe le Strange" (1980), "Private Audition" (1982), or "Passionworks" (1983), were bad, just not up to the standards of the late 70's. Denny Carmassi (drums) and Mark Andes (bass) where brought in before the recording of "Passionworks" which would begin to show the new direction the band was taking and which would come to full fruition in 1985.
     1985 brought them to Capitol records from Epic and with that a change in direction. The songs on "Heart" (1985), "Bad Animals" (1987), and "Brigade" (1990),  had the band turn up the amps and head straight into arena rock territory. This along with a renewed focus on the sister's sexuality in time to take advantage of MTV propelled them to a comeback of sorts which would take them to the end of the decade.
     The singles would pretty much peter out after 1990, however their album output has been strong especially over the last 10 years with top notch albums, "Jupiters Darling" (2004), "Red Velvet Car" (2010), and "Fanatic" (2012). We finish up with two songs from the past, and one from the present.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Deep Purple

     One could argue that if for nothing else Deep Purple should receive a special award from the Hall of Fame for inspiring hundreds of thousands of guitar players to begin a musical road with those now famous power chords which open, "Smoke on the Water". However there was much more to the band, and honestly am baffled as to why it has taken so long for them to be considered.
     The group started out from drummer Chris Curtis, formally of the band The Searchers ("Needles and Pins", "Love Potion No. 9) to start out a band which would revolve it's members in and out as needed. It was to be called "Roundabout", and several investors were interested in this proposition so Curtis went about to put together the first incarnation of the band.
     He first turned to keyboardist Jon Lord who was followed by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. It wasn't very long that the investors in Curtis' idea were interested in Lord and Blackmore, but the drummer's behavior, always a bit erratic, had become more trouble than it was worth and was booted out of his own band. Nick Simper (Bass) was recruited, and Rod Evans (vocals) brought his drummer Ian Pace with him from their group, The Maze.  Shortly after beginning to tour in the spring of 1968, the name Deep Purple was chosen over Roundabout.
     Over the next couple of years, the group had success with the albums, "Shades of Deep Purple" (1968), "The Book of Taliesyn" (1968), and "Deep Purple" (1969). They also reached the heights of the top 40 twice in 1968 with a cover of Joe South's, "Hush", and Neil Diamond's, "Kentucky Woman".
     All of this early work blended the classical leanings of Lord, with the increasing bold work of Blackmore's power chord riffing and laid the foundations of not only heavy metal, but along with Keith Emerson and The Nice, provided a template for "classical" style progressive rock. As the 70's dawned however, it was decided to up the ante....
     Lord and Blackmore had decided to steer the band into more of a hard rock direction. Thinking that Simper and Evans were not suited for the new direction, they were replaced by vocalist Ian Gillian and bassist Roger Glover. This brought the group into what has been considered their classic years. "Deep Purple In Rock" (1970), "Fireball" (1971), "Made in Japan" (1972), and "Machine Head" (1973) set the standard for hard rock in the early 70's, and along with Black Sabbath set the blueprint for a host of heavy metal groups who would appear in the mid-80's.
     The pressures of almost constant touring for several years, a management pushed album, "Who Do You Think We Are" (1973) that was sub par in comparison to the previous work, and friction with Blackmore (that was probably caused by all the above), led Gillian and Glover to quit. He was replaced by David Coverdale (vocals) and Glenn Hughes (bass). The resulting album, "Burn" (1974) was a success. After the next release ("Stormbringer" in 1975) however, Blackmore was not pleased with the direction the band was going and quit. New guitarist Tommy Bolin helped propel 1976's, "Come Taste The Band", but his drug use and subsequent behavior led the band to break up later that year.
     The band reformed in 1984 and has continued to tour in various forms ever since. The line up today consists of Pace, Glover, Gilliam, Steve Morris (guitar), and Don Airey (keyboards). Blackmore joined the reformed group in 84, but left in 1993 and since 1995 has been teamed up with his then girlfriend, Candice Night to form the folk rock duo, "Blackmore's Night". (Which if you like acoustic renaissance style really might want to check them out). Lord also teamed up with the reformed group and stayed until 2002, the last few of those years working on solo projects as well. He passed away July of 2012 at the age of 71.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hall of Fame Nominee--Chic

     I know every one of you who went down the list of nominees at some point (for some of you many points) went, "Huh?" My moment was Chic. I know them for two songs, but their influence went much deeper than that...
     Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards met as studio musicians in 1970, and formed a rock band called, "The Boys", and later, "The Big Apple Band" up to 1976. The band disbanded after a second album failed to chart. In 1977, they recruited drummer Tony Thompson and as a trio did some club work. Thompson suggested keyboardist Raymond Jones, and to round out the group, singer Norma Jean Wright was brought in. They went in to the studio and recorded, "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah,Yowsah, Yowsah). To add more depth, the group chose to bring in a second singer. Norma suggested Luci Martin. Wright had to leave early in 78, because of an issue with her contract. Alfa Anderson was brought in as they entered into their classic phase.
    In 1978 and 79 they had three big hits, "La Freak", "I Want Your Love", and "Good Times". History points to "La Freak" as the most popular, but it was "Good Times" which became the template for many songs of that era. More importantly, the Sugarhill Gang using it on their breakthrough rap single, "Rapper's Delight". Edwards and Rodgers always contended that their music was the rock side of disco. Considering everyone from Duran, Duran, to David Bowie, to Queen were influenced directly by Edwards' bass lines, and Rodgers production values, there is a strong case to make here.
     With the end of the disco era, Edwards and Rodgers left to work together and separately on many albums. Their fingerprints could be heard all over the early and mid-80's. Madonna, Bowie, Cindi Lauper, Howard Jones, Steve Winwood, Sheena Easton, Thompson Twins and others had music produced by Rodgers. One has to wonder if this nomination is as much for the Rodgers/Edwards duo and their contributions to a decade of music rather than what they did with Chic. One never knows about the Hall of Fame voters. We decide.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Hall of Fame Nominee--The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

     Paul Butterfield was born and raised in Chicago and grew up studying classical flute, but discovered blues harmonica and the blues. Paul and fellow student Elvin Bishop (guitar) began hanging around the blues houses in the city, rubbing elbows with greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. By 1963, they had teamed with Jerome Arnold (bass) and Sam Lay (drums) to form the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
     The were signed to Electra records in 1965 which also was the year of their first release. By this time they added Mike Bloomfield as a second guitarist and Mark Naftalin on the organ. It was a great album, showing the band learning the lessons taught by the Chicago masters earlier that decade. It was the 1966 release however, "East-West" that broke ground in the blues that are still being learned. It was a jazzier album, but it was the influence of Indian raga that not only set it apart, but pointed the way for a new direction for the blues.
     Their next album, "The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw" (1967) lost Bloomfield, but added larger ensemble including horns (including a young David Sanborn on Alto Sax) and continued into a jazzier sound. Three more albums would come, and band members shuffling in and out before Butterfield broke the band up in 1971. The group had taken their blues base and explored eastern music, psychedelic, jazz, and soul in their 6 years together. The band also found themselves at the crossroads of the major events of the 60's musically. In 65' the several members were included in Bob Dylan's backing band at the Newport Folk Festival where the folk community had been shocked by the performance being done electric. They also were on the bill at Monterrey and at Woodstock.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Version 2013

     Some of you may have already heard this, but here are the nominees for the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

     The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
     Deep Purple
     Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
     Albert King
     The Marvelettes
     The Meters
     Randy Newman
     Procol Harem
     Public Enemy
     Donna Summer

          For years now, I've heard whining that started out like this, "(fill in the blank) isn't rock and roll, why are THEY being considered". Well, if you look at it from a very narrow definition, there are probably only four on this list that would be considered "rock" music. So...isn't this watered down?
          Yes, and no would be my answer. From a pure historical perspective, you could argue that none of these would fall under that title anyway.  "Rock and Roll" signified a period of time which generally started in 1955 (although you could easily make the case that it began before then), and went to about the mid-60 when we entered the "modern rock" era. That might seem like semantics to you, but believe me, there is a big difference. 
          In including all modern popular music, those at the  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made the term, "rock and roll" very generic. You might not like that, but let's face it, from a marketing standpoint, "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" sounds a lot cooler than, "Popular Music Hall of Fame". So those of you who moan and complain about the fact "it's not rock and roll" ...get over yourselves.
          As to the actual nominees, we'll take a week or two to check them out and maybe to give you a bit more understanding why they are on this list anyway. If your fans of their work, you might already be thinking, "it's about time". At the same time, there are those who I believe should be on this list (or should already have been included)....I'll share those as well.
          I'd love to hear your opinions about this list, or any omission that you would like to see rectified. So...send them on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Eagles--Take It Easy (1972)

    In the spring of 1971, singer Linda Ronstadt was preparing for a summer/fall tour and her manager, John Boylan was looking to put together a backing band. Glenn Frey was from Detroit and had moved to LA back in 69, Don Henley had come to the city from Texas the next year. Both were recruited for the band. A few months later a couple of relative veterans came into the fold. Bernie Leadon had just finished a stint with the Flying Burrito Brothers after recording a couple of albums with the group. Randy Meisner had begun doing session work on a full time basis again after spending some time with Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band.
     The four actually only played one gig with Ronstadt together, but quickly began to work among themselves on material written by Frey and Henley. By the end of the summer, their work with her had finished, and their work as the Eagles had begun.
     Although much of the first album was written in house, it was a friendship that Frey had with Jackson Browne that produced their first big hit. According to Browne, he had a bit of the song written and was in the studio fooling with it a bit, Frey asked about it and Jackson had replied that it wasn't ready yet. Glenn then suggested that it be completed there in the studio because he liked it. When Browne declined to do so, Frey then suggested that he help complete the song. "...after a couple of times when I declined to have him finish my song, I said, 'alright.' I finally thought, 'this is ridiculous. Go ahead and finish it. Do it.' And he finished it in spectacular fashion. And, what's more, arranged it in a way that was far superior to what I had written." (Taken from 'The Jackson Browne Fan Page')
     The result was a great song which became their first release, and first hit in the Spring in 1972 going to number 12. The debut album in which Browne was working on became a hit as well, with the debut single, "Doctor My Eyes" reaching the top ten.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bob Dylan--The Times They Are A-Changin (1964)

     There is not a lot to add here about Bob Dylan that has not already been said. It is important to note however, that if you are under the age of 40, many of you might wonder what the fuss was really all about. After all, in all of his years he only had four songs in the top 10. His voice has been parodied to the point of exhaustion, and in interviews (like the latest one in Rolling Stone), he comes as a cross between a curmudgeon and a religious zealot.
     Let me put it as succinctly as I can. There has been no one, over this enormous span of a career (now over 50 years) who writes like he can. Almost all of the songwriters in the rock era that we look to as great, has been influenced either directly or indirectly by Dylan's craft. You can take his voice or leave it (am not a great fan of his vocals overall), but you cannot challenge his way with a lyric. By the time The Beatles met him, he had already redefined folk music, written anthems that spoke to a generation, became disillusioned with folk music religiosity and with politics and had begun to turn inward.
     If you hear a singer/songwriter who sings in an introspective manner, you can thank Dylan for that. John Lennon would remark years later that it was Bob's music which taught him that you could write songs that were personal. As strange as it seems, it was not conventional for songwriters to write directly about themselves. Dylan broke the mold for that.
     Together, Dylan and The Beatles led music into the modern Rock era. The Beatles' music came from a fresh take on the Rhythm and Blues filtered Rock and Roll of the middle/late 50's. Dylan's rock came directly from Folk, which shocked many followers, but gained many more fans as the quality of his output never wavered.
     And what an output that was! "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" (1963), "The Times They Are A-Changing" (1964), "Another Side of Bob Dylan" (1964), "Bringing It All Back Home" (1965), "Highway 61 Revisited" (1965), "Blonde on Blonde" (1966), "John Wesley Harding" (1967), "Nashville Skyline" (1969). Most artists would give anything to have ONE album that was as good as any of these. Instead he gave us an entire decade's worth.
     That is not to say that he sloughed off after that, however it is fair to say that he has had peaks and valleys over the last 40 years. For those who stopped paying attention after Nashville Skyline, it's worth noting (and listening to), his middle 70's output, including, "After the Flood" (1974), "Blood on the Tracks" (1975), and "Desire" (1976). I could list another ten albums that are essential listening after that. It's not like he's been coasting, but after a decade like the 60''s a hard act to follow....ask any of the Beatles.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Duran Duran--Hungry Like The Wolf (1982)

     If I were born ten years later, there might be a quaintness to the synthesizers of the 1980's. As it turns out, growing up during the early days of the Moog taught me a few things (like enjoying the bass sound in a recording) and it seemed as if the entire technology took a step back. Which is why a lot of early 80's stuff leaves me cold except for those artists who understood musical textures and could make the best of lousy keyboards.
     Which brings me to Duran Duran. One could, I suppose discuss the merits of their music, but listening to an hour of them (which happened in prep for the radio show) brings a numbness to my brain cells. Their sound was good enough, and was danceable, but what gave them staying power for so long were the videos.
     Like everyone else in my generation, the idea of seeing an artists rendition of a song was fascinating, even if the artist usually had very little to do with it. I can remember for hours sitting and just watching this (yes kids, MTV used to actually just show videos.....). Looking back now with a tad more jaundice view, it was obvious that without MTV Duran Duran would have gone the way of many a early 80's UK group. However, the guys could make love to the camera and the videos were interesting in a 1982 sort of way.
     In an age now where substance gets overshadowed by flash (there is still a lot of good stuff out there...but you have to work a bit harder for it), one has to look back and wonder if MTV was a good thing at all. Of course, the programming that you find on it now make this video clip look like Masterpiece Theatre.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Drifters--Under the Boardwalk (1964)

     By 1964 The Drifters had been a mainstay on the charts having been there 26 times with four top ten hits. Ben E. King had been their lead singer until 1960 when he left for a solo career and was replaced in that position by Rudy Lewis. Lewis was the voice you heard singing such hits as, "Up On The Roof", and "On Broadway".
     The group had planned to head to the studio once again in May of that year to record, "Under the Boardwalk", written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick. On the 21st of that month however, Lewis died of a suspected heroin overdose. Instead of canceling the studio session, they asked a former member of the group, Johnny Moore to sing the lead.
     The song was intended to be an uptempo, upbeat song. No one seems to be sure if the change was made intentionally, but the shift from major to minor (which WAS part of the song), along with the slowing down of the melody changed the feel entirely. It became the last top ten hit for the group although they continued hitting the charts up until 1967. They continue to perform today and you can see more about the group now, and their legacy here:


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Dream Academy--Life in a Northern Town (1985)

     The story of The Dream Academy began with the meeting of singer/guitarist Nick Laird-Clowes and keyboard player Gilbert Gabriel in the late 70's. They formed a duo called the Politics of Pop which emphasized different musical textures such as strings and woodwinds. They met and invited multi-instrumentalist Kate St. John to be a part of the group. With her addition, they changed the name to The Dream Academy and spent the next couple of years developing their sound. They were rejected by many record companies when Warner Brothers took a chance in 1985.
     The suits and Warner wasn't convinced of the marketability of  the first single, "Life in a Northern Town" and attempted to change it by adding a drummer, but Laird-Clowes and Gabriel dug in their heels and refused to change it. The song, released in the fall of 1985, made it up to number 7 on the charts, and the debut album it was on made it to the top 20. A follow up, "The Love Parade" found it's way to the top 40 the next year. Those were the only two hits here in the US, with the last showing on the top 100 coming in 1986 with a song off of the soundtrack to the movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Oddly enough the group never toured until 1991, years after they were relevant, then split up.
     The song itself was about Nick Drake, the British singer-songwriter of the early 70's. It's sound perfectly captured the melancholia of the tragically short life of Drake. It was a striking difference in sound from everything that was around it at the time, and of course like the best songs of any era, it cannot be pigeon-holed into a certain era.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Dramatics--In The Rain (1972)

     Sometimes I'll post a blog because of specific reasons (i.e. death, retirement, new album, etc.), and today it's all about the rain. The Dramatics first big hit was 1971's, "Watcha See is Watcha Get". But today in Nashville is cloudy, wet, and cool. A perfect early fall day from my perspective, and my mind wandered to a song that to me is a lost classic. "In the Rain" hit the charts in February of 1972 and rose to number 5 on the charts, which made it the biggest hit for the group on the Hot 100 and their only number 1 on the R&B list. 
     The Dramatics formed in 1962 out of Detroit and began recording in 1965 on the small Wingate label. Motown absorbed the label in 1967 and it was with them that the group had a local hit with, "All Because of You" which reached #43 on the R&B charts. The next year they signed with Stax/Volt and continued to hone their skills breaking through with "Watcha See.." three years later.
     The group continued to record hits throughout the decade of the 70's, finally breaking up in 1982. A reunion in 1985, and the reception from their fans convinced them to reform Part of that group remains today as they continue to tour. Their last studio album, "If You Come Back To Me" was released in 1999 although they have a live set that came out in 2002.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lamont Dozier--Trying To Hold On To My Woman (1973)

     Before getting started with today's post, I wanted to direct you to a blog that you might find interesting. For several months now, I've been reading Mike Descz's, "A Bit Like You and Me". It also takes a song a day, but his focus is on songs that are a bit more obscure than what we do here on the bus. It's a fun trip and hope you check it out.

     Lamont Dozier was born in Detroit in 1941, and from 1957 to 61 recorded with groups like The Romeos and The Voice Masters until signing a deal with Motown in 1962 and teaming up with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland.
      Beginning with Martha and the Vandellas, they began crafting hits like, "Heatwave", and "Quicksand". But it was 1964, when hit the top of the charts with, "Where Did Our Love Go", that the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland took off and for the next four years, this songwriting team produced 12 number one hits.
      H-D-H left Motown in 1968 to form their own company, Invictus/Hot Wax which was moderately successful and in 70, Dozier went back to his recording career. During the first half of the 70's, Dozier had success, especially on the R&B charts. It was this song in late 73/early 74 that was became his highest charting hit. He continues to write and record. His website is,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Joe South (1940--2012)

     Joe South, who passed away on September 5th had not been heard from very much since his heyday in the late 60's/early 70's. His style of songwriting and guitar playing which was filled with a  distinctly southern feel which still holds up very well today.
      Born Joseph Alfred Souter in Atlanta Georgia, he started songwriting during the late 50's, penning the novelty song, "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor" in 1958, and a couple of songs for Gene Vincent. His first big hit as a songwriter was in 1962 when a local group, The Tams hit #12 with, "Untie Me".
     He spent much of the mid-60's as a top rate studio guitarist with the National Recording Company which also included producer/keyboardist Ray Stevens and guitarist Jerry Reed. South's guitar work could be heard on the electric version of Simon & Garfunkel's, "Sound of Silence" Bob Dylan's, "Blonde on Blonde" album, and the amazing guitar work the propelled Aretha Franklin's, "Chain of Fools".
     His next big hit as a songwriter was in 1965's, "Down in the Boondocks" by Billy Joe Royal in 1965. His list of hits for others include:

    "Hush" (Deep Purple 1968)
   "Yo-Yo" (The Osmonds 1971)
    "Birds of a Feather (The Raiders 1971)
    "(You Never Promised Me a) Rose Garden (Lynn Anderson 1971)
    "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (Brook Benton 1972)

     He is best remembered for the song, "Games People Play" which was his biggest hit and garnered him two Grammys (he also received a Grammy for, "Rose Garden"). His other top 20 hit was, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" which Elvis made a staple in his live performances.
     In 1971, his brother and the drummer in his band, Tommy, committed suicide. This threw Joe into a depression which, along with a drug problem, drove him into a self imposed exile in Hawaii for years until he cleaned up his life. His reclusiveness assured that any kind of "comeback" was not in the cards. He eventually moved back to Buford Georgia.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Joe Dowell--Wooden Heart (1961)

    Joe Dowell was from Indiana then moved with his family to Illinois where he went to college. During a semester break he drove to Nashville to look for a record company to record him. On his last day in the city, he was signed to Smash records not only because of his voice, and his clean cut look. After school was out in May of 1961 he went to record four songs.
     The night before the recording session, producer Shelby Singleton was at the movies watching "G.I. Blues" which was Elvis' latest movie. He was attracted again to a song in the movie called, "Wooden Heart" which was sung partly in German. A version was already going up the charts IN Germany, and with another Elvis song climbing up the charts at the time in the US, it was thought that Presley would not be releasing the song anytime soon, so it was presented to Dowell as one of the four songs to be recorded.
     Dowell took about three hours to learn the song phonetically that next day. It was released in June and a couple of months later it reached number 1. Presley himself had it issued as a single in the UK where it went to number 1, but never released it in the states. Joe had a couple more songs reach the charts, but was dropped by Smash after a contract dispute in late 1962. He spent the rest of his career in radio advertising.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Dovells--Bristol Stomp (1961)

     The group formed as the Brooktones in 1957. The Philadelphia based group consisted of Jerry Summers, Mark Stevens, Len Barry, Mike Dennis, Arnie Satin, and Danny Brooks. Their early songs attracted a small amount of attention in the city, but not enough to warrant a look from any record company, so in the summer of 1960 Jerry and Mike left to form The Gems. 
     Things began to change however late that year as Cameo/Parkway records brought in The Brooktones for an audition and did well enough on the strength of two of Barry's songs to be signed. Jerry and Mike were asked to come back, as the group changed their name to The Dovells. During the late spring of 1961, while in the studio, a PR guy was talking to the group about a new dance that he came across at the Goodwill Fire Hall at Bristol. The dance was called, "The Stomp". Several of the guys thought it cool to write a song about it, and just over 24 hours later, they song was written and recorded.
     Although released in the summer of that year, the single went nowhere. Finally it began to catch in the midwest during the Fall, and it wasn't long before it became the number 2 hit in the nation. For the next two years, they hit the top 100 another 7 times. Most of the songs were related to dances that were popular at the time ("Do the New Continental", "Bristol Twistin' Annie"). They did reach the top five again in mid-1963 with the number three hit, "You Can't Sit Down". A dispute however in 1964 led Barry to leave the band for a solo career, where he had several top 40 hits. Summers and Stevens still tour as The Dovells today.
      Check them out at

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Hal David (1921-2012)

     Yesterday we lost one of the great American lyricists of the last 50 years. Hal David with his songwriting partner Burt Bacharach defined 60's pop music. His timeless lyrics are still being sung by many an artist who's parents were children when they were first performed.
     David dabbled in lyric writing, but was preparing for himself a career in journalism. He was writing for the New York Post, when a lucky break allow him an opportunity to write for big band leader Sammy Kaye. Several hits came for Kaye and for Guy Lombardo's band s well. However it was hit meeting with Burt Bacharach in 1957 that would change the life of both men, and of American music. Starting with, "The Story of My Life" written and recorded that year by Marty Robbins, and "Magic Moments" sung by Perry Como, they were off and running.
     Their biggest success came though with the collaboration with Dionne Warwick. There was a chemistry between the three that made it impossible to mention one without the other. "I'll Never Fall In Love Again", "Do You Know the Way to San Jose", "Walk On By", and "I Say A Little Prayer" were touchstones of mid-60's pop and are still fresh and inviting today.
     The following is a listing of David's biggest songs and a video or two as well.

"The Story of My Life"--Marty Robbins
"Magic Moments"--Perry Como
"(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Vallance"--Gene Pitney
"Only Love Can Break a Heart"--Gene Pitney
"Close to You"--The Carpenters
"Wives and Lovers"--Jack Jones
"Wishin and Hopin"--Dusty Springfield
"Walk On By"--Dionne Warwick
"There Was Always Something There To Remind Me"--Dionne Warwick/Naked Eyes (82)
"What The World Needs Now Is Love"--Jackie DeShannon
"What's New Pussycat"--Tom Jones
"Alfie"--Dionne Warwick
"I Say a Little Prayer"--Dionne Warwick
"The Look Of Love"--Dusty Springfield/Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66'
"Casino Royale"--Herb Alpert
"One Less Bell To Answer"--The Fifth Dimension
"This Guys In Love With You"--Herb Alpert
"Do You Know the Way to San Jose--Dionne Warwick
"Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"--B.J. Thomas
"I"ll Never Fall In Love Again"--Dionne Warwick
"To All The Girls I've Loved Before"--Nelson/Iglesias
"It Was Almost Like A Song"--Ronnie Milsap


Carl Douglas--Kung Fu Fighting (1974)

     In the history of popular music, there are many examples of songs that make you scratch your head, laugh out loud, or both. Even better when said music can make you move. The 70's for some reason was full of stuff like this....and so we come to the story of Carl Douglas.
     He spent his youth in his native Jamaica and California, then moving to England to study sound engineering. While there, he formed the group Big Stampede and even issued a couple of singles. From the mid-60's to early 70's he spent time with several groups in England and Spain, but it was a meeting with Indian-born producer Biddu which would lead to his biggest hit.
     Biddu worked with Carl on a movie soundtrack in 1972, and it was that experience that led the producer to call for help with vocals a couple of years later. The song, "I Want To Give You My Everything" was the supposed "A" side. He needed a song for the flip side, so Biddu wrote music to some lyrics that Douglas had written about the martial arts craze happening in the US at the time. The song was recorded in 10 minutes.  
     The supposed "A" side was forgotten immediately as the song was a meeting of a great tune with "expert timing". It reached number 1 in the states in late 1974. The follow-up, "Dance the Kung Fu" made the top 50, and top 20 in Britain, but he was not seen in the US again. Douglas settled in Germany and owns a production company. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Donovan--Jennifer Juniper (1968)

     Jenny Boyd was the younger sister of Patti Boyd who was the first wife of George Harrison. She lived the life of a swinging London single. She began an on again/off again with drummer Mick Fleetwood beginning in 1965 when she was only 18, it would eventually lead to them being married, divorced and married again during the 1970's. But in 1967 she was a successful model and business woman owning a boutique called, "Juniper" in downtown London.
     Despite her success however, she felt a restlessness spiritually which had been heightened further by her experimentation with  LSD. She followed along with sister Patti and George to India to study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was there she met a guy who had a secret crush on her.
     Donovan Leitch had become one of England's most popular folk singer who had been riding on a wave of popularity which had lasted over two years at the time he came along this trip to India. It was this trip that had substantial consequences for many. Harrison and Love began a lifelong devotion to Eastern religion. Donovan taught Paul McCartney and John Lennon several different finger picking style which included the clawhammer style which showed up in five songs on the the White Album.
Then there was, "Jennifer Juniper".
     In his autobiography, "The Hurdy Gurdy Man", Donovan denied any romance between him and Boyd, although it had been rumored for years. Either made for a great song which reached number 28 on the charts in the late winter/early spring of 1968.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group--Rock Island Line (1956)

     Over the years, all four of the Beatles had discussed their influences. Elvis, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and so on. One name however that comes up that most in the US have never heard of was Lonnie Donegan.
     Skiffle was a type of music that drew from traditional jazz, blues and folk, and generally performed with homemade instruments. It's roots are disputed, but began to show up in recorded form in Chicago during the 1920's. It popped up from time to time over the next 20 years, but was a rural genre that never saw a lot of popularity until Lonnie Donegan led a revival of the style in the UK during the 50's.
      Donegan spent much of the 40's and early 50's playing guitar in various traditional jazz bands throughout Britain. While playing with Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, he would play a guitar and banjo during a dixieland set. This led him to join with a couple of other members to play what they called a "skiffle" break which included a washboard, a tea-chest bass and Spanish guitar. 
     This proved to be so popular that the combo recorded a version of Leadbelly's, "Rock Island Line" in the summer of 1954, which became a hit in 1956. He recorded much of the rest of the 50's, with a great deal of success. His real influence however was how, in bringing skiffle to England, he inspired many a poor and middle class boys to pick up homemade (or very low rate) instruments and start banging out, "Rock Island Line".


Friday, August 17, 2012

Lee Dorsey--Working in the Coal Mine (1966)

     A native of New Orleans, Lee Dorsey moved to Portland Oregon in his pre-teen years. After a stint in the Navy, he began a career as a light heavyweight boxer in the early 50's. After retiring from the sport, he moved back to his hometown and opened an auto body shop, and singing in some of the R&B clubs at night. It was working the clubs that he met up with the person that would become integral in his career.
     Allen Toussaint was just getting his career off the ground as an arranger and was attempting to start up his own record company and offered Dorsey a chance to record. The first song, "Ya Ya" was a hit on the new Fury label, reaching number 7 on the charts in the summer of 1961. A follow up, "Do-Re-Mi" also reached the top 40 later that year before the Fury label folded, which at that point, Dorsey went back to his business.
     As Toussaint went to the Amy label, he was able to work with Dorsey again in 1965. The following year, "Working in the Coal Mine", written by Allen, became another top 10 hit, and became Dorsey's signature song. Although the chart action ended by the late 60's, he recorded and toured for much of the rest of his life. He passed in December of 1986 at the age of 61. This is an interesting promo of Dorsey from England.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Doors--Light My Fire (1967)

     It's probably sacrilege to some of our readers, but the Doors rarely do anything for me. As much potential as Jim Morrison had as a writer, his self destructive indulgence and total disregard for his audience rendered him for the most part an artist who's potential was unfulfilled. That isn't to say that he didn't have talent. On the contrary, his abilities and more importantly his charisma was the key to the success of the group.  As opposed to poetry, where the reader gets to interact with the words as opposed to the writer, rock music is an interactive pursuit where the energy between an artist and audience can make or break a performance. There probably wasn't a group that was more of a roll of the dice in that area than The Doors. When they were "on", the performances were legendary, on the other hand, they could be dull with lead singer Jim Morrison doing little more than slurring through his set, and God knows that beyond Morrison, the music wasn't enough to keep one interested.
     They were a group that could only have been a product of the 60s, where experimentation was the rule of the day. The poetry and lifestyle of the "beat" generation of the late 50's/early 60's suited Morrison to a tee, and it was that esthetic that informed much of the group's output. Looking at it over 45 years later, much of it comes across as self-indulgent yapping (admittedly, that could be said for many groups of the era) but when they were on, it ranks up there with any of the songs of it's era.
     "Light My Fire" was brought to the group through guitarist Robbie Krieger with the real hook being the opening and instrumental passage by Ray Manzarek. It was their first number one hit, and the song that defined the group. It was the song which brought them infamy through the performance on the Ed Sullivan show. On September 17, 1967, they were getting ready to take the stage when told the line, "girl, you couldn't get much higher" had to be changed because of perceived drug references. They told Sullivan officials they would do it. Of course, as the show was being done live, Morrison sang the lyrics just as he had planned without changes.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Doobie Brothers--Listen to the Music (1972)

     The beginning of the group came about as drummer John Hartman arrived in California to work with former Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape artist Skip Spence. Things didn't work out musically between the two, but Spence introduced Hartman to singer/guitarist Tom Johnston. The duo began working together with a rotating crew of musicians under the name, "Pud" for about a year until teaming up with bassist Dave Shogren and Patrick Simmons. They changed their name to "The Doobie Brothers" and began to tour through Northern California, being especially popular with the Hell's Angels.
     They were signed to Warner Brothers and released their first album in 1971. "The Doobie Brothers" didn't make a dent on the charts, but from a listen you could see all of the elements that would come to fruition just a year later. Shogren was replaced with Tiran Porter and added a second drummer, Michael Hossack.  The addition of Porter's voice completed a three part harmony which became vital to the Doobie's sound. Pianist Bill Payne (from the group, Little Feet) contributed on the follow up recording as well.
     "Toulouse Street" added a glossier production, but not so much that it would be considered slick and that suited the sound of the band perfectly. It is a classic album of the early 70's California sound much like the Eagles, but with more jazz and r&b underpinnings. The first single, "Listen to the Music" became their first top 20 hit and would lay the foundation for the Doobie's sound for the next three years. 


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Donovan--Sunshine Superman (1966)

     Over the years, Donovan has been considered a lightweight, but as opposed to "heaver" psychedelic bands his music would stand up much better over 40 years later. The music however, was truly a product of the "flower power" era.  Early in his career he had been unfairly compared to Dylan, mainly because of the same influences. (Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott) Although the early style was similar, there was really nothing the same about them as far as content went.
     He had some success in the US by 1965, but it was his collaboration with producer Mickie Most who had been doing work with Lulu, The Animals, and Herman's Hermits. Donovan's first collaboration with his new producer brought him the song, "Sunshine Superman". Which became a number one song for him in the states.
     "Superman" was inspired by Linda Lawrence,  who became his muse throughout his late 60's output, and later became his wife. It was full of the trippy, psychedelic folk sound that became a trademark of his music. It began a string of top 40 hits that would lead him to the end of the decade. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods--Billy, Don't Be A Hero (1974)

    Listening to the bubblegum pop of "Billy, Don't Be A Hero", one would think that Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods would have been a studio group. One just put together to record the song without any intention of touring. That could not have been further from the truth....
     The Heywoods were formed in 1965 by keyboard player, Robert "Bo" Donaldson in Cincinnati.  The name came from one of the members at the time,  Corky Pickering. The group spent the second half of the decade opening for several big names of the day; The Rascals, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Herman's Hermits.
     It was while opening for The Osmonds things began to break for them. After signing with Family Productions, the released their first single in 1972. "Special Someone" didn't make a dent on the charts, it did garner the attention of ABC Records. This led to the release of, "Billy, Don't Be A Hero".
     The song, written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander,  had been a hit by the group Paper Lace in the UK and was being prepared for release in the US. However ABC got Donaldson's version out for a time there were two versions of the song out. Donaldson's version reached number 1 here, it made no impact in the UK.
     The follow up single, "Who Do You Think You Are" also did well on the charts. After breaking up in the 80's, the group reformed in 1996 and still tours. You can find them here:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thomas Dolby--She Blinded Me With Science (1983)

     Am not sure why, but when I think of Thomas Dolby, Food Network personality Alton Brown comes to mind. It just be the mad scientist that both give off. Of course, in both cases, the men are somewhat quirky, but much more than what we see.
     In Dolby's case, he has shown a brilliance in technology that far exceeds his contributions as an artist, although those are quite significant. With little musical training, he taught himself guitar and later piano, when he discovered synthesizers. From that point on, he plunged head long into music and the studio side of music. As a teen, he worked in a studio as a technician, songwriter and engineer. You can hear his keyboards on recordings from Joan Armatrading, Foreigner, and Def Leppard.
     His first recording, "The Golden Age of Wireless" produced his only top ten hit in the US, "She Blinded Me With Science". The song, took off under the power of the video which highlighted Dolby and Dr. Magnus Pyke (who played the doctor). You can also hear producer "Mutt" Lange on the recording as well.
     He never appeared on the US top 40 again, but had another hit in the UK in 1984 with, "Hyperactive". He spent much of the rest of the 80's in the role of musician, but by the 1990's he began working more on business pursuits. The chances are that if you have had a cell phone over the last 10 years, the ringtone on your phone at some time or other had been developed by Dolby.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dr. John--Right Place, Wrong Time (1973)

     There are times in the history of the singles chart where the mix of different genres will cross with artists who's music is eclectic as well and the paths will cross and an off the wall hit is born. Such is the way this song made it to the top ten.
     Dr. John, (who's real name is Mac Rebennack Jr.) began his professional career in his native New Orleans as a guitar player and producer. An incident where he was defending the keyboard player in his band ended with a shooting where Mac ended up with an injured ring finger. His interest in music began as a young teen after meeting Professor Longhair for the first time so his change from guitar to piano seemed to be a natural one.
     Having moved to LA in the early 60's, he quickly caught on with other artists and soon became on of the top session players on the scene. It's also where he developed the persona of "Dr. John" and mixed the jazz and R&B of his home with psychedelic rock of the day. The result, "Gris-Gris" was totally different than anything going on at the time. One of the songs, "I Walk On Guilded Splinters", was as good an example of psychedelic rock than anything done by the Dead or Jefferson Airplane.
     Four more albums were released, and he developed a solid cult following. Although not necessarily making  music for the singles chart, Atco released, "Iko Iko" off of his album, "Dr. John's Gumbo" in 1972, and primed the market for the album, "In The Right Place". Produced by Alan Toussaint and backed by The  Meters and propelled by the single, "Right Place, Wrong Time", the album went into the top 30. He has continued to tour and record top flight records. You can check out more about this stellar American legend at 
     The video was from New Orleans in 1973...


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dr. Hook--Sylvia's Mother (1972)

     Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show got it's start in 1970 as the three members of the group, The Chocolate Papers broke up, than reformed with new lead singer Dennis Locorriere. The name of the group came from one of their first gigs when a club owner said they needed a name for a poster that would promote a gig that night. Guitarist George Cummings made a sign that said, "Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic For The Soul". The name Dr. Hook was a play on bandmate Ray Sawyer's eye patch (he had lost an eye in a 1967 car accident).
     An early enthusiast of the group was songwriter Shel Silverstein. Some of Shel's songs were chosen for the 1970 movie, "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me" (no kidding...that was the name of the movie) Silverstein suggested that Dr. Hook would be the perfect band to perform the songs in the movie. The movie was less than stellar at the box office, but it would lead Ron Haffkine, who was musical director of the movie to become their manager.
     They were signed to CBS records in 1971 and Silverstein wrote their first single. "Sylvia's Mother". The song was autobiographical was Shel wrote about a failed relationship he had with a woman named Sylvia. He called her mother to attempt to rekindle things, but to no avail. The song reached number five in the summer of 1972, and launched Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show to stardom. They just became Dr. Hook in 1975, and had a stellar career for the rest of the 70's. By the way, although "Cover of the Rolling Stone" is their signature song, "Sylvia's Mother", and 1980's "Sexy Eyes" were better sellers.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dire Straits--Sultans of Swing (1979)

     Mark Knopfler (born 1949), had been a student at Leeds University, and for a time was a rock critic for the Yorkshire Evening Post. He was also an excellent guitar player and was playing in a pub band, when he gathered brother David (guitar)  and his roommate, John Illsley (bass) in 1977. Later that year they picked up drummer Pick Withers and made a six song demo tape. They approached DJ Charlie Gillett about listening to the tape and just giving some advice about how good it was. Gillett was so impressed by it, he played "Sultans of Swing" on his BBC show, "Honky Tonkin'". On the strength of that demo, the group was signed by Phonogram Records and Muff Winwood produced the first album.
     In an era where disco in the US and punk in the UK were both running their course, the mix of pub rock, jazz, and country along with Mark Knopfler's unique voice (kinda like a understandable Dylan) and hot guitar playing led the band eventually to top ten status all over the world. It would not always be a smooth ride while they band always did well in the states (they never had an album out of the top 20), they never reached the singles charts again until 1985's, "Money For Nothin'".

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: The Dixie Cups--Chapel Of Love (1964)

     Sisters Barbara and Rosa Hawkins along with school friend Joan Johnson began singing in the Calliope housing project in New Orleans. First known as Melltones, they caught the attention of singer Joe Jones who became their manager. By 1963, they went to New York for an audition and was signed by Leiber and Stoller signed them to Red Bird Records.
      They were renamed "The Dixie Cups" and was assigned a song written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector which had originally been meant for The Ronettes. "Chapel Of Love" became their biggest hit, although it was not their only one having three more top 40 hits. it was also the first American song to reach the top 40 after the British Invasion, knocking off "Love Me Do" in the summer of 1964.
      The sisters still continue to perform along with Athelgra Neville. You can see more of them at

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dion--Ruby Baby (1963)

     I have always thought that Dion has been on of the most unappreciated artists in rock and roll history. Part of this has been caused due to an overall negative view of musicians who broke through in a big way in the early 60's. However the quality of the music was usually head and shoulders above most pop groups of that day. With the Belmonts, he started out singing Italian-American doo-wop, then on going solo he went into more of a pop mode with definite  blues leanings (as you can hear on "Ruby Baby").
     A heroin habit that he had been fostering since his teen years began to get the best of him. He kicked it once and for all in the late 60's, and began singing more folk oriented songs. This was best heard on his album, "Dion" in 1968 and the single, "Abraham, Martin and John", written by Dick Holler and became his last top 10 hit.
     Since then he has meandered through folk, Christian music, and now headlong into the blues over the last decade. In fact, he was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for Best Traditional Blues album for, "Bronx in Blue". No matter what direction he has taken his music, he has always been consistently good. There are obviously albums that are better than others, but I've never heard a bad album in the bunch. At the age of 72, he continues to record great music. If you have not heard of him, check out his early material first as many have been influenced by his pop material. Those who had forgotten about him, need to check out his output of the last 20 years. In fact...I'll give you all a bit of a bonus and add one of his later songs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dino, Desi, & Billy--I'm A Fool (1965)

     Nepotism in the arts has always been a fact of life. The idea being that if Mom or Dad had the talent, then Junior must have some too. Today we have more than a few examples of the family trade being passed along. At least to my ears however, because of the current conditions in the music industry, you still have to have the goods talent-wise, just your good (musical) name won't be enough.
     The first of these didn't come from the rock era, but rather the pop era of an earlier generation. Dean Paul Martin, the son of singer Dean Martin. Desi Arnez Jr. not only had a popular musician/actor father, but his mother was the predominate actress on television. They both went to school with Billy Hinsche, and seeing the Beatles for the first time encouraged them to work together as a group.
      Dean Martin had a recording contract with Reprise which was owned by friend Frank Sinatra, and through that connection an audition was set up with the boys (who were all under 16 at the time). They were signed and their first single was the most popular. "I'm a Fool" came out in the summer of 1965 and reached #17 on the charts. There has been an argument that the boys, while not bad, had been signed and taken energy and money away from the company which would have been better used for other artists.
     The trio wasn't bad, and yes, you can easily argue that most groups wouldn't have got a sit down audition with "The Chairman of the Board" (figuratively and literally). On the other hand, the trio did have two top 40 hits, and opened for the likes of The Beach Boys, The Mamas and Papas, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, so it wasn't a bad gamble for Reprise records either.
     The group stayed together until 1968, as they all began to mature and choose different directions for their lives. Martin wanted to do a lot of things, he was a professional tennis player, was an avid pilot reaching the rank of Captain in the Air National Guard by 1981, and acted on the big and small screen. He died in 1987 in a jet crash in the California mountains. Desi found a spot on his mom's show (Here's Lucy) in 1970 and has spent the rest of his career as an actor and in production. Billy was the only one to remain in music as he became a part of the Beach Boys band in 1974 after graduating from UCLA.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Mark Dinning--Teen Angel (1959)

     From a purely historical standpoint, I was always amused by certain religious groups in the late 80's and 90's who were claiming that rock songs promoted death. Not that the subject would be worth discussing, but this was not the first time that popular music had been preoccupied with it. In fact, it has been a part of rock and pop music since the late 50's. There have been many over the years, but for those who think this is a subject of later rockers consider the death in a car songs, "Dead Man's Curve" (1964), and  "Last Kiss" (1962). Or maybe on a motorcycle with "Leader of the Pack" (1965). In fact, if you are wanting to dive into this a bit more, there is an entire page of this stuff with dozens of examples of death in music, either by accident, by murder, or by war. So any talk of death in today's music seems a bit disingenuous. (By the way...that website is Your welcome.)
     Anyway, this leads our blog today to look at, if not the first, the first popular "death" song on the charts. Mark Dinning was one of nine born to a couple who lived in Oklahoma,  (where Mark was born) Kansas, and finally Nashville. Three of his sisters had recording success as "The Dinning Sisters" in the late 40's. Mark however fancied himself as a country singer. He was signed to a contract with MGM in 1957, but really hadn't done much until he was given a song written by his sister Jean and her husband Red Surrey.
     The song had all the makings of a hit. Danger (car stalls on train), devotion (she goes back for ring), unrequited love (she dies in his arms...never to love her again ), and of course eternal devotion (assuming she is watching over him from above). It took awhile for the song to make it to the charts as US and UK radio stations at first would not play it because of what was considered morbid material. Between some stations what would play it, and word of mouth, the song would quickly make it up the charts becoming a number 1 hit in February 1960.
    Dinning would have three more minor hits over the next couple of years, but alcoholism hindered his career greatly. He died in 1986 of a heart attack driving home from a gig in Jefferson City MO.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Neil Diamond--Sweet Caroline (1969)

     Neil Diamond is one of the few songwriters left (along with Carole King) who's musical heritage flows directly through the Brill Building which is the 60's equivalent of Tin Pan Alley. He began as a pure pop singer who crafted some of the best songs of the late 60's/early 70's. His desire to become a more "serious" songwriter took him to some strange places musically and didn't always work, but his attempts were fascinating, and  often took flight as successful hits.
     Neil was born in Brooklyn in 1941 to parents of Russian and Polish ancestry. He had taken an interest in music early on, but began to sing and play the guitar during his teen years. He was known in high school as a fine fencer, and in fact was given a scholarship to New York University in fencing and would eventually be on the US Men's championship team.  He originally intended to study medicine, but during his senior year, switched to the NYU's School of Commerce and retained his student status until 1965, but from that time on his focus was on being a songwriter/singer. It was in 1965 that one of his compositions, "Sunday and Me" was recorded by Jay & The Americans and hit the top twenty, the first of his songs to become a hit.
     He had his first charting song as a solo artist in 1966, "Solitary Man" reached about the midway point of the hot 100. It's follow up, "Cherry Cherry" reached the top ten and his career as singer/songwriter was on it's way.  A string of top 20 hits for him and others (most notably The Monkees) continued through 66' and 67'. As the next year opened however, artists were beginning to do more "serious" work musically and Diamond was showing discontent of writing just pure pop songs. This disagreement with his record label, "Bang Records", let him to leave the label and sign an contract with Uni. This was to lead him to some of his more enduring records.
     Before 1969 was over he had scored first with, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" then with his biggest hit up to that time, "Sweet Caroline". In an interview on Dec. of 2011, Diamond attributed the name Caroline to Caroline Kennedy. He said that a magazine cover photo of her as a young child on a horse with her parents in the background created an image in his mind, and that the rest of the song came together about five years after seeing the picture.
     The song reached number 4 in late 1969 and set in motion a very prosperous five year period for the singer. He had bigger hits, "Cracklin' Rosie" (#1 1970),  "Song, Sung Blue" (#1 1974), "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (#1 1978), "Love On The Rocks (#2 1980), but none has stayed in the public imagination more than this one.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Andy Griffith--The Fishin' Hole (1960)

     For several generations the character of Andy Taylor and the actor who played him (for many of us one in the same) presented a vision for many of what life could be. Played in the fictitious Mayberry, North Carolina, it was as close to utopia as television would ever get. But I've often thought, "Why?". Well, there are those who will take a deeper look into the sociological aspects to the show, and this isn't the venue for that kind of let's take a look at the man.
     Andy Griffith was born North Carolina and from his earliest years was immersed in music. He learned to play the trombone, and also acted some in high school. After pondering becoming a minister, he switched his major to music and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1949. His first job out of school was teaching music and drama at a high school in Goldsboro.
     He started his career as a stand up comedian, but not like we think of one today. He was a monologist, one who would tell long stories. This was where he first made a name for himself with, "What It Was, Was Football", which 60 years later, his country/rural character still makes me laugh. This led him to the opportunity to play his first major role in the teleplay, "No Time For Sergeants" on the United States Steel Hour. He broadened out the play to a full length Broadway production in late 1955 which became quite successful. It was also made into a movie in 1958 with another young actor Don Knotts. This would be the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between the two. Those who are old enough to remember won't be surprised to know that the television show Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C was pretty much a modern copy of this movie.
     Producer Sheldon Leonard and actor Danny Thomas wanted to get Griffith on TV and began to develop a show for him. On Feb 15, 1960, we see Andy Taylor (and Opie) on The Danny Thomas Show, where Andy plays the justice of the peace on an episode where Thomas gets arrested for running a stop sign This lead up to the debut of the Andy Griffith show in October of that year.
     For the next eight years, The Andy Griffith show was to be one of the top programs on CBS. Looking back at it now, it was (as many of television's best shows are) a cast of people who are perfectly suited for that role. Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Frances Bavier, and all of the others became so set in their performances, that none of them, were able to break out of the characters they developed in future years. For as well as Griffith, Knotts, Howard, and Nabors did after the show ended, over 50 years later we still seem them in citizens of Mayberry.
     Griffith did well post-Mayberry, starting his own production company, doing guest spots, and working on several made for TV movies, although he was never able to find success on a weekly show again until Matlock which ran from 1986-1995 on NBC and ABC. Although he continued to work on TV and film up to 2009, the last 15 years or so he returned to his love of music. From his first dramatic role in the 1957 movie, "A Face in the Crowd" through the Andy Griffith Show, he would find a time and a place to sing. He started recording albums of religious music in 1995 and had a great deal of success in that arena as well.
     To return to the question at the beginning of this blog. The Andy Griffith show and it's characters are by far the most celebrated and beloved in TV history. It came along at a time in which one could argue that the country was going through it's biggest upheaval since the Civil War. Despite what was going on socially, politically, and culturally, one could turn on CBS and see a 30 minute slice of what we wished for America to be, with the benevolent Sheriff/Dad Andy Taylor making sure all was ok with his world...and ours too. One might think that so many years later that sentiment like that would be passe, but we find that generations later, the lessons Mayberry taught has not lost it's importance. Although naive at certain level, at it's core we are drawn by the warmth of a town that was built on respect, kindness, and love. For some that reminds us of our own families. For others, it brings us closer to a family we never had. Let's face it, we still want to come home to a place in our hearts that is safe, warm, and protected by those who love us. That was the genus of The Andy Griffith Show, and in the death of it's star, we feel as if we have lost more than just an actor, we lost a friend.