Friday, August 31, 2012

Elvis: Blue Moon of Kentucky

I was busy this morning gathering some documentation about the Civil War for a newspaper article and I am late in getting today’s post written. Fortunately, I was reminded by someone that tonight we are having a blue moon – which is the third full moon of a season where four full moons occur. Typically, there are three full moons in a season.

Because of this, I cancelled my plans on doing a Huey Lewis tune as our Friday Flipside feature in deference to a rock ‘n roll number that speaks of a blue moon – a “Blue Moon of Kentucky” if you will. I know, I could have used “Blue Moon” by Marcels, but that was an “A” side and not a flip.

While Elvis also covered the Rogers and Hart composition, today we feature his take on Bill Monroe’s classic 1946 bluegrass number. The song was the “B” side to Elvis’ first single, “That’s All Right.” It is said that bassist Bill Black started slapping his bass and imitated Bill Monroe’s high (read nasal) tenor part on “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Elvis and guitarist Scotty Moore joined in the singing.

Stories vary on who inspired the change of tempo and time signature of Monroe’s classic tune – but both agree that it was someone connected with Sun Records. Owner/producer Sam Phillips and artist Charlie Feathers are both credited with changing the slow tempo ¾ time waltz to an up tempo 4/4 rocker. Elvis, Scotty, and Bill recorded their different version in July 1954.

Although neither song on this single was a national hit, it was said that regionally "Blue Moon of Kentucky" had greater popularity than the single's "A" side. Enjoy the blue moon and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys’ Original

The song reminds me of one time I sat in with a bluegrass band playing mandolin as a substitute for a college class presentation. Note, I don’t play bluegrass style, but have a great admiration and appreciation for bluegrass mandolinists. The guitarist asked me if I knew “Blue Moon of Kentucky” which I grunted an affirmative response and proceeded to kick off the Elvis 4/4 version . . . I was into two bars of the song when they stopped me and showed me the real way to play the song.

At that point, I had never heard Bill Monroe’s version – I never appreciated his vocal abilities, but I loved his playing – he did some really strange things with the mandolin by not always having both strings in a course tuned to the same note. On occasion, he used a D tuning that utilized the following: F#A DD AA AD. Mandolins are normally tuned GG DD AA EE.

I also was not keen on what he did to his prized 1924 Gibson Lloyd Loar F-5 mandolin when he got mad at Gibson. He gouged out their name on the headstock which devalued the instrument greatly. Eventually, Gibson and Monroe patched things up and the company offered to fix the headstock for free. So, all was not lost.

Note, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs both were members of the Bluegrass Boys and played on this recording. After Elvis recorded his version, Monroe recorded another version and upped the tempo.

I plan to end this blog on September 26, 2012. If you would like to see it continue after that, let me know by registering your feelings in the survey found at

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Polydor, Odetta, and "Hit or Miss"

Since the advent of the recording industry, it has been fraught with mergers and acquisitions. Often competing trademarks existed in different companies due to the spinning off holdings overseas. I first noticed this in the late sixties that labels such as Decca and Columbia were no longer operated by the same organizations in the US and the UK.

Because of this, you would find newer labels such as London in the US being the arm of the Decca Records, Ltd., and artists on UK’s Columbia (owned by EMI) appearing in the US on EMI’s American arm – Capitol Records and not on CBS' Columbia label. Even the famous record listening fox terrier Nipper, who was known as the icon of RCA Victor in the US and Canada, is a trademark owned in much of the world by EMI's HMV (His Master's Voice) label.

I really became fascinated with all of the intricacies of the music business when Crawdaddy!, in 1971 or '72, featured an article on whom owned what in the recording industry.  Inside the newspaper a fold-out chart indicated that (at that time) less than a dozen corporations controlled the majority of the music business worldwide. Since the 1980s, the major labels brought on even larger conglomerates and that pool shrunk. In recent years, I’ve lost touch with who owns whom these days – and frankly do not care to know. I think it’s better that way.

An early player in the in music business was the German company Deustsche Grammophone, which utilized the Polydor imprint in other markets to export its recordings outside of Germany. The label eventually took on its own identity and particularly had success in the UK; however, until 1969 it had no presence in the US. Most UK Polydor releases in the US were licensed to other labels. Depending on the artist, you might find Polydor artists on the various Atlantic and MCA labels.

With the incorporation of Polydor in the US, the label struggled during its early US years. Its financial stability was based on a number of subsequent events including a 1972 merger with Philips' Phonogram holding company that created PolyGram. There were two other significant events in the history of US Polydor.  One, it acquired James Brown’s back catalog from King Records in 1969; and two, the license deals with other US record companies began to expire and their music catalogs in the US reverted to Polydor.

Most notably during this period was the redemption of the Eric Clapton related material (Clapton, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos) which had for years been issued in the US under license to Altantic’s ATCO subsidiary. That began to change in 1972 when new compilations emerged on Polydor and eventually the original albums were released as ATCO stopped producing these recordings.

While this influx of back material was a shot in the arm, the years of 1969 to 1972 were interesting ones for Polydor, Inc. and Polydor Records Canada Ltd. (as the North American arms of Polydor International were officially known). Besides bringing in artists such as John Mayall in 1969, the label signed a number of artists including Chick Corea, Arthur Fiedler, Roy Buchanan, Mandrill, Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, and Odetta.

While Odetta only recorded one album for Polydor, “Odetta Sings” released in December 1970, the album’s single release of “Hit or Miss” is our TV Thursday selection. While one of two original compositions from the album, “Hit or Miss” is gaining in popularity these days as the backing track to a current commercial for Southern Comfort.

This unusual commercial features a 60+ old man with an obvious paunch walking on a beach. If that weren’t enough, he is wearing a Speedo and dress shoes. His swagger exudes confidence. The commercial screams individualism and Odetta’s song is perfect with the hook – “I gotta be me – hit or miss.” I had never heard this cut before its debut as a TV commercial backing track, but I love it.

“Hit or Miss” is departure from her folk music of the 50s and early 60s, but it is great; however, since it is not like her earlier recordings – her fan base probably didn’t appreciate the change in direction. Since she had already been typecast as a folkie, it was difficult for Polydor to market Odetta to a new audience. It was her only album with the label and "Hit or Miss" was, unfortunately, a chart failure. 

Extended Southern Comfort Commercial

I plan to end this blog on September 26, 2012. If you would like to see it continue after that, let me know by registering your feelings in the survey found at

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

J.J. Jackson: But It's Alright

Today’s one-hit wonder is a single that became more popular after it charted than when it peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 in December 1966. The late in the year release date probably hampered the sales and airplay of J.J. Jackson’s hit “But It’s Alright.” Typically when a single moves up the chart during December, it is the kiss of death – or at least it was.

At least when I was in radio, Christmas music dominated the airwaves during December and the record industry grinded to a screeching halt. Apparently, that is what happened to Jackson. By the time January 1967 turned the page on the calendar, “But it’s Alright” was a distant memory in recurrent rotation if it was that lucky. Case in point -- the single only peaked at 22.

It is difficult to believe that this song, which was a dance classic in the 60s and later and an oldies radio favorite, failed to break into the Top 20. Records that performed much better and gained more airplay than “But it’s Alright” have taken a back seat on oldies radio to Jackson's one-hit wonder. When I was doing mobile DJ work in the 80s and 90s, this tune was guaranteed to fill the dance floor once the beginning guitar chords pumped through the speakers.

Recorded in Great Britain, the single featured some the UK’s best jazz musicians including Terry Smith on guitar, Dick Morrissey on sax, and John Marshall on drums. All three later became part of Jackson’s touring band. The song also evokes the memory of marching bands at a Friday night high school football game with the simple sounds of a glockenspiel. Add a key change and the right channel reverb and what more could you want?

I plan to end this blog on September 26, 2012. If you would like to see it continue after that, let me know by registering your feelings in the survey found at

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Al Di Meola: Flight Over Rio

I first got interested in guitarist Al Di Meola from his work in Chick Corea’s band, Return to Forever when I purchased their album “No Mystery.” It was an excellent introduction of this super group of jazz that featured keyboardist Corea, Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke, and drummer Lenny White. This band really gelled.

In 1977, I picked up a copy of Al Di Meola’s second solo album “Elegant Gypsy.” It was a promotional copy that was illegally sold by a record store in Huntington, WV. Many Tri-State residents purchased numerous promo copies at a discount from this retail dealer. Many times the “Promo Copy – Not For Sale” warning was covered over with a sticker; however, the notice was completely visible on other occasions.

It was no secret as these albums were in the store’s discount bin for anyone to purchase. Eventually the law caught up with the owner and he spent some time in jail – but not before I increased my collection by leaps and bounds. Among his racks of wax were some limited edition releases that were intended for issue to radio stations.

One of these was Billy Joel’s “Souvenirs” – a live radio only release that was very good. Another was a promo sampler from Eric Clapton’s “Backless” album. Known as “Limited Backless,” the six song disc was issued in white vinyl. Both were nice collectables that were suitable for my collection. The store also sold legitimate copies and had a good selection of import albums. I was able to purchase a number of Beatles’ LPs in colored vinyl.

I will have to say it was one of my favorite record stores; however, I cannot remember the name of the establishment. Strangely enough, I can remember stores that I frequented once or twice, but not this one. I must have blocked it from my memory.

I believe I purchased music from this store between 1976 and 1979 or thereabouts. It mysteriously closed one day and I didn’t know what happened to it until 1983 when I was visiting the Huntington Mall and saw the former owner. He confessed that he was prosecuted for the sale of these records and had recently been released.

I digress – back to “Elegant Gypsy.” While the style on Di Meola’s solo album was different from his work with “Return to Forever,” it was just as good. It also allowed this talented guitarist to shine on his own merits without having to share the spotlight with four equally talented musicians.

One of my favorite cuts on this album is the “Flight over Rio.” The track starts out with the signature synthesizer sound that only Jan Hammer can make. Hammer plays all the keyboards on this track. Di Meola and Hammer are joined by Anthony Jackson on bass and Steve Gadd on drums. Besides guitar, Di Meola plays all of the percussion on this cut.

Although the synthesizer sounds a little dated, mono synths were state of the art instruments in 1977. Di Meola mixes jazz, fusion, rock, and Latin music in one elegant musical concoction.

Unless I get a number of folks requesting that I continue, I plan to end this blog on September 26, 2012. If you would like to see it continue after that, let me know by registering your feelings in the survey found at

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Moody Blues: Emily's Song

Unless I get a number of folks requesting that I continue, I plan to end this blog in 30 posts on September 26, 2012. If you would like to see it continue after that, let me know by registering your feelings in the survey found at

The other day I discovered that YouTube is now the home of complete albums and on Friday I was in a prog rock mood. I listened to a classic Genesis album, Nursery Cryme, which was followed by “Fragile” by Yes. I noticed that while Yes was playing, YouTube suggested some Moody Blues’ albums.

The Moodies were always one of my favorite bands and I listened to “In Search of the Lost Chord,” “A Question of Balance,” and finally “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.” While listening to the latter, one particular song caught my ear – a John Lodge composition “Emily’s Song.” Lodge composed the tune in honor of his daughter Emily’s birth.

The author with John Lodge

While I have this album, I didn’t remember this song; however, it resonated with me on Friday. Along with singing lead and playing bass on this cut, Lodge plays ‘cello and celesta. Justin Hayward plays guitar and sings harmonies with his longtime friend.

Mike Pinder’s contribution on Mellotron extends Lodge’s ‘cello to a full orchestra. He also plays harpsichord on the track, but it is buried in the mix and only surfaces in some of the quieter moments of the song.

While the similarities are ever so slight, I believe that portions of this song were influenced by Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” Graeme Edge’s percussion is very similar to Jerry Allison slapping his legs on “Everyday.” Lodge’s use of the celesta evokes an instant connection to Vi Petty’s work on “Everyday.” While Lodge’s lead on this keyboard instrument is not note-for-note the same as “Everday,” there are definite similarities.

Because the song was complicated, it was not played live by the Moody Blues until their memorable “Live at Red Rocks” concert in 1992 – twenty-one years after the song was recorded in 1971. Lodge played acoustic guitar in this setting. “Emily’s Song” is not one of their classic tunes, but it is worth of another listen or three.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mind Garage: The Lord's Prayer

At the height of psychedelia, Mind Garage was formed in 1967 by students of West Virginia University in Morgantown. Encouraged by the campus minister and named by his wife, the band began working on an electric church service. Their “Electric Liturgy” was one of the earlier documented examples of the marrying the gospel message with rock music and was performed live in church in March 1968. Additionally, their participation at St. Mark’s Church in New York City was televised by ABC in 1969.

While Larry Norman is credited as being the father of contemporary Christian music, Mind Garage were performing Christian rock music a full year before Norman and their 1969 self-titled release was issued the same year as Norman’s debut album, “Upon this Rock.” Others who also recorded religious flavored rock were The Byrds and The Electric Prunes. 

Our Spiritual Sunday selection comes from their second LP released in 1970, “Mind Garage Again.” The album features their “Electric Liturgy” and their version of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Deep Purple: Woman From Tokyo

Here’s one that takes me back to my first semester of college. Ironically, the band had not yet had their big hit with “Smoke on the Water” when the album “Who Do You Think We Are” had been released in late 1972 – so that required that the single of “Woman from Tokyo” be issued twice. The first iteration of “Woman from Tokyo” backed with “Super Trouper” was released as WB 7672 in January 1973.

“Smoke on the Water,” from the previous LP “Machine Head” was issued as a single largely due to Pittsburgh AM radio playing the song to death in late spring 1973. Requests came into the various record stores for the single, but being that there was none, Warners rushed released the single which had a live version from the 1973 LP “Made in Japan” as the flip. Some radio stations opted to play the live version from the new album rather than the “A” side from 1972’s “Machine Head.” Pittsburgh radio stations continued to play the original version.

I remember this well as I had just got my first car in May 1973 and it seemed like the three Top 40 stations played three songs to death that summer. “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, “Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group (a song that also had been released twice), and “Smoke on the Water.” While the newest Top 40 station in the burgh 13Q (WKTQ) was the one to break the single, the other two stations KQV and WIXZ in McKeesport both bowed to public pressure and played the single.

Warner Brothers was in the perfect position to follow up “Smoke on the Water” with another heavy release. The album releases of “Machine Head” and “Made in Japan” charted on Billboard’s Top 200 at #6 and #7 respectively. It was prime time to boost sales of “Who Do You Think We Are” and “Woman from Tokyo” was re-released as a single in August 1973 as WB 7737.

Unusually, with no changes to the length of the single and retaining “Super Trouper” as the flip, Warners issued the single with a new number. In other cases of reissued singles, the numbers usually didn’t change unless a substantive change occurred with the reissue. This is not always the case, as with ATCO’s 1972 re-release of Derek and the Dominos' single “Layla.” Even though the second issue was the full length 7:10 version of the song as opposed to the original 1971 single release of a 2:43 edit, ATCO retained the original issue number.

Be that as it may, “Woman From Tokyo” hit the radio in full force in the fall. Although it originally did not chart in the Top 40, stations that already had played the single in the spring were hesitant to re-add the single and it only peaked at #60 – and hence our “Bubbling Under” hit for this Saturday. The album did much better, but not as well as the other two massive sellers in ’73. “Who Do You Think We Are” peaked at #15.

Interestingly enough, the song title is misspelled on the back of the album cover of the original vinyl release as “WOMAN FROM TOKAYO” – just like Ian Gillian sang it. It even appears this way on the original Japanese release of the album. It is spelled correctly on the label and on the inner sleeve lyric sheet. Later pressings corrected the error.

This is a great tune that shows the guitar prowess of Ritchie Blackmore and the fantastic keyboard skills of Jon Lord. I learned this last week that Jon Lord passed away on July 16. So much was going on in my own life with a series of illnesses and the news that my employer was going to close its doors, that I missed this critical piece of rock ‘n roll news. Lord was a master of the keys.

“Woman From Tokyo” showcases Lord as he cranks up the overdrive of the Hammond B3 organ – sounding like a distorted rhythm guitar in places. In addition, he added wind sounds from a synthesizer during the bridge and shows that he could really pound it out on the piano as well. We’ll miss Lord’s contribution to the music world with Deep Purple, Whitesnake, studio work, and other lesser known bands.

As stated yesterday, I am planning to end this blog on September 26, 2012. Your input could change this decision – fill out the survey and if a requisite number of responses are gathered, I will keep it going. The survey can be found at

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Doors: Moonlight Drive

Several days ago when I mentioned that only 35 posts remain (now 33) before I retire “Reading Between the Grooves,” I had several comments indicating that I should continue. While I had not planned to bow to any pressure, I have decided that if I get enough positive comments to continue I will do so; however, I will probably reduce the number of posts during the week. If you want to leave some comments about this blog remaining after September 26, take the survey at

Today’s Friday Flipside comes from Jim Morrison and The Doors. I realized that I hadn’t featured anything on Friday by this iconic group. Today’s selection, “Moonlight Drive,” is the “B” side of “Love Me Two Times.” Both appeared on the 1967 album “Strange Days.”

The song starts with Ray Manzarek playing the bass notes of a piano in unison with John Densmore’s bass drum and guest musician Doug Lubahn’s bass guitar. Shortly into the song, Robby Krieger plays a unique slide guitar accompaniment and later a full blown slide lead.

Although “Love Me Two Times” still receives a modicum amount of airplay on both Classic Rock and Oldies stations in the US, the original single only charted at #25. “Strange Days,” the bands second album, tipped the scales by peaking at #3 on the album charts.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Yaz(oo): Situation

Occasionally bands originating in one country are prohibited of using their name in another country due to conflicting trademarks with existing bands of the same name. In the 80s, several bands fell into this category.

One way to combat this is to buy the competing trade mark; however, this is not always possible and the solution is to rebrand the band in the other country or countries. The latter occurred with Yazoo, who was rebranded as Yaz in the US. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to them as Yaz(oo) rather than Yazoo/Yaz.

Yaz(oo) had several dance hits in the US in the 80s and 90s, but had limited mass appeal. “Situation” was the second of four #1 records to hit the top of Billboard’s Dance chart; however, its position on the Hot 100 only made it to 73. The year was 1982.

Yaz(oo) was comprised of two musicians: synthesist Vince Clarke and vocalist Alison Moyet. The synth hook was the compelling feature of this recording. I have fond memories of this song as the band I played keyboards with in 1982 and ’83, Audio Game, performed this number. We loved this song and our lead vocalist Debrin Jenkins shined on it.

“Situation” is our TV Thursday song, as it appears on a current commercial for Esurance.

Esurance Commercial

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bubble Puppy: Hot Smoke and Sassafras

For One-Hit Wonder Wednesday, here’s a little psychedelia from 1969 with the little known Texas band “Bubble Puppy.” It is said that they took their name from a game in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” known as “Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.” By the time “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” hit the charts, the band was a four piece with Rod Prince and Todd Potter on guitars, David Fore on drums, and Roy Cox on bass.

“Hot Smoke and Sassafras” was a mondegreen of a phrase the band heard on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The single, released in Houston based International Artists label, charted at #14. Their name on the label of several singles was miscredited as “The” Bubble Puppy. Under the advice of new management, “Bubble Puppy” rebranded as Demian, but had little success under that moniker and never achieved the heights of “Hot Smoke and Sassafras.”

Only 35 more posts until "Reading Between the Grooves" is retired.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Esperanza Spalding: Endangered Species

One of the more exciting musicians to come on the scene in the last ten years is Esperanza Spalding. Her treatment of the bass – whether bass guitar, standup bass, or electric standup bass, Esperanza attacks the strings with gusto. Her vocal talents are also superb – whether singing straight lyrics or scat singing as she does in today’s feature cut, “Endangered Species.”

Today’s cut from her 2009 appearance on Austin City Limits is a cross between be-bop and fusion and showcases both her bass and vocal abilities. In 2011, she won the “Best New Artist” Grammy and the Boston Music Awards’ Jazz Artist of the Year award.

Because of the scale, you don’t often see a woman playing the bass – but Esperanza can outplay most male bassists. Not only is she a great musician in her own right, she has surrounded herself with a killer band. Enjoy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Off Kilter: Whiskey in the Jar

The other day I was listening to Pandora and Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version of the folk song “Whiskey in the Jar” came on playlist. Their version was called “Gilgarra Mountain” and was more of a mellow rendition sung by Peter Yarrow. It got me thinking of the various versions from the Dubliners to Thin Lizzy. While scouring YouTube, I found a lively interpretation by Off Kilter that I hadn’t heard before.  Off Kilter was a house band at the Epcot Center.

This Celtic-rock band provides a perfect marriage between Irish versions and rock versions of this old song. Their version of “Whiskey in the Jar” features pipes and killer guitar leads. It’s from their 2005 and last album “Kick it.” This is becoming my favorite version of this song that I head first as a kid in the early sixties.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Wailin' Jennys: Glory Bound

Today’s Spiritual Sunday selection is from The Wailin’ Jennys – a group whose name is a play on country star Waylon Jennings name. Formed in Canada, the band is now 2/3 Canadian. The band’s latest member, Heather Masse, is an American who joined with two of the original members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta.

“Glory Bound” is from the band’s live album “Live from the Mauch Chunk Opera House” in Jim Thorpe, PA. Jim Thorpe was originally named Mauch Chunk prior to its renaming to honor its hometown all American athlete. Although released in 2009, the songs were recorded in 2008. And yes, the suitcase is actually used as a bass drum.

Ruth Moody penned the tune and plays the clawhammer banjo, Nicky Mehta plays guitar, and Heather Masse plays electric standup bass. Ruth’s brother Rick Moody joins on viola. The song is in the key of D. Ruth’s banjo is capoed at the fourth fret playing a C pattern while Nicky’s guitar is capoed at the second fret and she plays in D.

Studio Version

The original recording of the song in 2004 from their album “Firecracker” is in the key of D and is slower.

This version has Annabelle Chvostek as a member. “Firecracker” was her only recorded output with the band. She was a replacement for original member Cara Luft who appeared on the band’s EP “The Wailin’ Jennys’ EP” and first full length CD “40 Days.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heart: Kick It Out

In June 1977, I had the opportunity to see Heart for the first of three times. While much of their music centered on their hits from “Dreamboat Annie,” they also featured tracks from their new album “Little Queen.” The show at the Huntington (WV) Civic Center was festival seating and I had an opportunity to get some photos of the band as I was fairly close to the stage.

Nancy Wilson bathed in red stage lights "Kicking it Out" on a Strat

The year 1977 was a bizarre one for Heart as their former label, Mushroom Records, released what had been an unfinished album that was supplemented by some live tracks (“Magazine”) simultaneously as the band’s new label, Portrait Records, was readying the release their official second album “Little Queen.”

The lights give Ann Wilson the appearance of a red head.
The issuing of “Magazine” resulted in a legal battle between the band and Mushroom. Mushroom claimed that Heart was under contract for a second album and the label had the rights to issue the album to fulfill the contract. The courts ruled in Mushroom’s favor; however, the album had to be pulled from production and sales and the band was allowed to redo the LP to their satisfaction. The improved version of “Magazine” was released in 1978.

“Kick it Out” was one of the better songs from “Little Queen”; however, the single failed to make it to the Top 40 charts and peaked in the US at #79. Pity – the song really kicks and deserved a better showing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Styx: Queen of Spades

For Friday Flipsides, I present a song that was not only a “B” side to one single, but two. “Queen of Spades” by Styx appeared on their 1978 album “Pieces of Eight.” Initially it was the “B” side of “Sing for the Day,” which peaked at 41 in 1979. “Sing for the Day” was later released as the “B” side to the next single – “Renegade.” Interestingly, A&M issued both singles under the same number 2110-S.

“Queen of Spades” later appeared as a flip to the 1981 single “Too Much Time on My Hands.” The “A” side peaked at #9. Although “Queen of Spades” didn’t have hit potential it is a great tune.

Only 40 more posts until we retire Reading Between the Grooves.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Elvis: Baby What You Want Me To Do

Think quickly – where were you 35 years ago this afternoon? Any clue? I was sitting on the old 6th Street Bridge between Chesapeake, Ohio and Huntington, WV. I had just paid my dime to cross the Ohio River to get back into West Virginia and I heard the news over WKEE – Elvis had died.

As soon as I could, I got to the radio station where I worked the 5 PM to Midnight shift (WEMM) which at that time was located on Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington. I ran back to the wire machine and grabbed the copy from United Press International signifying Elvis had passed. The afternoon jock hadn’t seen it or heard the news and he took the wire copy and read the news after his record.

I have that wire copy and all subsequent ones from that evening that signaled the end of an era – a death of a king – The King of Rock ‘N Roll. This news was significant as Elvis was to appear in Huntington a few days later – that show would never occur and the promoters scrambled on getting tickets returned so that customers could be reimbursed. Believing (and rightfully so) that the tickets would be collectors’ items, concert goers were hesitant to release their tickets, but still wanted a refund.

A compromise was struck with the promoter issuing commemorative tickets in place of the actual stock. I’m not sure I would have released my tickets had I purchased some. I would have probably counted the refund as a tradeoff for collectables. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on attending the show.

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of Elvis’ death and to fulfill my commitment with a TV Thursday cut, I bring you Elvis’ version of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to do.” This particular cut appeared on the 1968 Elvis “Comeback Special” that aired on NBC on December 3, 1968. The show’s segment when this song was recorded had Elvis situated in the round surrounded by his friends and adoring fans. He did four hour-long sets with two recorded in the round. These were edited into the subsequent hour TV special.

Elvis hadn’t performed live since 1961 and his fan base had skewed older. To give the illusion that Elvis was still viable to a much younger audience, Colonel Tom Parker situated younger women closest to the stage. The tactic worked and the enthusiastic audience helped in the show’s success.

On this track, Elvis is playing Scotty Moore’s 1963 Gibson Super 400 CES. The Super 400 was Gibson’s most expensive guitar. Its name came from its price tag when an acoustic version of the guitar debuted in 1934 – it was $400. A 1934 dollar is equivalent to $17.00 in today’s market and therefore a Super 400 cost $6,800 in today’s money. The price tag at Musician’s Friend for one is over double that amount - $14,499.00. Monetary inflation has nothing on guitar inflation. The CES stands for “cutaway electric Spanish” (as in Spanish guitar).

A Super 400 CES in a different body style

Joining Elvis on stage were the following musicians:

Scotty Moore on acoustic guitar

D.J. Fontana playing drums on a guitar case

Alan Fortas providing percussion by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar and vocals

Charlie Hodge on acoustic guitar and vocals

Lance LeGault on tambourine.

Some have suggested that Elvis’ “Comeback Special” indirectly influenced MTV’s Unplugged series a generation later. Could be. RIP Elvis wherever you are.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

John Sebastian: Welcome Back

Yesterday while at work, a coworker walked into my office and said, “Did you know Horshack died?” I hadn’t thought about Arnold Horshack or the actor, Ron Palillo, who played the part of the annoying character from “Welcome Back Kotter” for decades. If you lived in the 70s, you’ll certainly remember Horshack’s idiotic laugh and some of his memorable characterizations such as “ooh – ooh – ooh” and “How-ahh yah?”

A week ago, if you asked me to name the Sweathogs, I could only name two – Vinny Barbarino (played by John Travolta) and Arnold Horshack. Palillo did an excellent job in creating a memorable character for the show that ran four seasons on ABC. Palillo died of a heart attack at the age of 63. I was a sophomore in college when the show debuted and was shocked to learn that this guy who played a high school student was seven years older than me. Amazing.

To celebrate the lives of Palillo and Horshack, our one-hit wonder is from John Sebastian and is his number one theme for the show: “Welcome Back.” According to the definition, a one-hit wonder is the only song by an artist (as listed on the record) to chart in the Top 40. While Sebastian had numerous Top 40 hits with the Lovin’ Spoonful (ten to be exact), he only had one single to place within the Top 40.

 Some pressings of the single were released as “Welcome Back Kotter” while others simply were issued as “Welcome Back.”

Not only did the single chart at number one on the Hot 100, it also was a #1 adult contemporary hit and placed on the country charts at #93. The album, “Welcome Back,” peaked at #79. Sebastian plays guitar and harmonica and sings all the vocals on the track. Although the song has a Randy Newman flair, it is all John Sebastian as the author/composer and artist.

RIP Hoshack.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jamie Cullum: Come Together

It’s Tasty Licks Tuesday and here’s a little number I discovered yesterday from one of my favorite pianists. Jamie Cullum is equally at home playing jazz or rock and this impromptu performance for BBC Radio 2’s 2DAY. Cullum was asked to do The Beatles’ “Come Together” and he tore into the tune without any difficulty. Although he was skeptical that he would get the lyrics correct, he did pretty good in my book - I think he got them all correct. 

This particular live recording shows the great talent that Cullum is – he is confident in his abilities, but not cocky. On a lighter note, the blue lights give Cullum a strange cast – sort of reminiscent of The Diva in “The Fifth Element.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Show Me The Money - Three Versions of Two Tickets To Paradise

As I wind down this blog, I realized that there are whole host of artists that I have not featured. As I was looking over the list of some of my favorite songs, I realized that I have not featured any music from Eddie Money. This former New York policeman was born as Edward Mahoney, but dropped two letters in his surname and became Eddie Money when he left the long blue line for rock and roll.

I had a chance to meet Money in the mid 80s in Atlanta. He was so friendly and I kept running into him at a conference I was attending. Every time I saw him, he recalled my name and it seemed like we had known each other all of our lives.

The Artist and the Author in Atlanta, 1984

Today, I am going to show you the money – Eddie Money and three versions of his 1978 hit “Two Tickets to Paradise.” This is probably my favorite Money song, but alas it only peaked at #22 – a shame as it really rocks.

Version #1: The Single Mix

The original single mix of “Two Tickets to Paradise” is considerably different from the corresponding LP track from his debut album “Eddie Money.” For the single, Money rerecorded the vocals – double tracking his voice in places and adding the whoas during the third verse that are missing from the LP.

In addition to a different vocal treatment Jimmy Lyon’s guitar parts are completely different from the album version and much heavier with several places where he has overdubbed a second guitar that is reminiscent of the recordings of Steely Dan and a majority of the 70s southern rock bands that had several guitarists.

As a single, it is also shorter and has a cold fade ending. From 1978 to 2008, the single mix was unavailable, but was released on the compilation CD “Playlist: The Very Best of Eddie Money.” It’s great to have this piece of rock history once again available.

Version #2: The Album Mix

The album version of the song has been the mix that has been heard over radio for the last three years. The keyboards are more in the front of the mix than the single mix. Jimmy Lyons’ guitar parts are not as overwhelming as on the single; however, the solo is much better.

The ending of the album is a standard cold ending with a drum beat. I guess I’ve been conditioned from years of airplay as I like the album version better than the single – it seems to gel better.

Version #3: The Acoustic Mix

I think the unplugged version of “Two Tickets to Paradise” is my favorite version of the tune. This is a song that you wouldn’t have thought could have been done acoustically, but it works well and still rocks. Part of this is Brian Gary’s organ parts that help it rock out. The guitars are handled by Tommy Girvin and Robert Heckert. Even Money’s vocals are strong as ever.

This live version was released in 1992 on the EP “Unplug It In.” I love it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Odetta: Glory Glory

Yesterday I was talking to my brother and we briefly talked about the folk singer Odetta. Classically trained, Odetta’s voice was smooth and perfect – a contrast to some of the more rough and twangy vocals of other folk singers prior to the 60s folk explosion.  Some of the newer voices were obviously influenced by Odetta’s clean style. Even those who did not have Odetta’s talent towards tonality gravitated towards folk music because of this early icon. According to Bob Dylan, after hearing Odetta’s debut album he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic Gibson guitar.

The album was “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” and it features our Spiritual Sunday song: “Glory Glory.” My familiarity of this traditional spiritual is with the song named alternately as “When I Lay My Burden Down,” “Lay My Burden Down,” and “Burden Down.” Odetta calls this same tune “Glory Glory” and she does a nice a cappella version on her 1956 debut album.

Only 45 more posts before Reading Between the Grooves is retired.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Neil Young: Down By The River

It’s Saturday and typically we do a cut that is fairly well known, but never charted within the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100. I call this our bubbling under feature and many of the cuts were real bubbling under tracks that failed to even make the Hot 100 even though they were single releases. Some of the cuts are album tracks that were played on AOR stations or at least were longer versions of the single release.

Today’s bubbling under song was released as a single but failed to chart completely; however, Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 1969 release of “Down By the River” was a staple for album radio for many years. From his second solo album after departing Buffalo Springfield, “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere,” “Down By the River” and the album’s two other popular cuts (“Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”) were composed while Young was sick with 103° F fever.

The guitar is typical Young with long staccato solos in one channel while the rhythm is in the other probably played on his characteristic Gretsch White Falcon. Joining Young on the tune is his backup band Crazy Horse with Danny Whitten on guitar, Billy Talbot on bass, and Ralph Molina on drums. Whitten and Molina also provide backup vocals that add to Neil’s trademark vocals.

Neil has his own vocal style – one that wasn’t appreciated by ATCO records. When Buffalo Springfield recorded their first album, the label wouldn’t let him sing his on his own songs – enlisting Ritchie Furay to handle front man duties on his compositions. By the time of the band’s second album, ATCO allowed Neil to sing on his material. I can’t see anyone else singing “Mr. Soul” – a song that would be a cult classic for Young and the band.

While not everyone appreciates Neil’s singing style, as it is an acquired taste, there are others that have adopted a similar tonality. Listen to America’s “Horse with No Name” and Ian Thomas’ “Painted Ladies” and you will see what I mean. As for “Down By the River,” it is classic Neil Young.

Live Version by C, S, N, & Y

Here’s a live version recorded in 1969 by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young at Big Sur, California. While the audio quality is not the greatest in the world, it gives you an idea how this song was performed live by C, S, N, & Y. Stephen Stills is playing a White Falcon on this version. Check out Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Fariña dancing in the crowd.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Led Zeppelin: Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)

I got thinking last night that I have never featured a Led Zeppelin “B” side as our Friday Flipside Feature. Today’s selection was the flip of the single “Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin’s only Top 10 single in the US. It charted at #4.

The “B” side was a track from “Led Zeppelin II” and was originally titled as “Livin’ Lovin’ Wreck (She’s a Woman)” on the initially British releases of the album. It was later rechristened by Atlantic Records as “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman).” The song was about an annoying groupie.

This cut is often heard yet today on rock radio; however, it is usually paired with “Heartbreaker.” The two songs run together on the album. Both the album and single were released in October 1969.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Riccitelli: Move On

Our TV Thursday cut is featured in BMW X1 commercial and is by Riccitelli. “Move On” is the track and I really cannot tell you much about this tune or the artist other than that I like it – I like it a lot. This 2011 release sounds like a cross between Jamie Cullum and and John Mayer. Enjoy.

BMW Commercial

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

David Essex: Rock On

Recorded in 1973 and peaking on the American charts at number 5 in spring of 1974, David Essex’s “Rock On” is one of those songs that when you heard it first you had to stop and carefully listen to it. Considered a “Glam Rock” song, “Rock On” was more than that and it defies categorization - with exception of one.  It was a one-hit wonder.

The song begins with Ray Cooper’s percussion and Herbie Flowers’ bass run through a tape delay. The dry signal figured into the left channel while the delay appeared in the right. Strings and horns appear later in the mix and Essex’s vocals are processed with heavy dose of reverb – reminiscent of production from the 1950s – a theme of the song.

This is a song that cries out to be heard in stereo, and a mono mix just doesn’t do it complete justice. Although, I probably first heard this song through the one speaker in the dash of my 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 over WKEE-AM80 in Huntington, WV. The mono AM radio version didn’t hamper me from going out and buying the single as soon as possible.

The thing that bothered me about this song was Essex’s equating of the names Jimmy Dean and James Dean. I know he intended for the reference to the actor James Dean; however, when I think of Jimmy Dean, I think of the country artist who sang “Big Bad John.”

A younger generation will identify with Jimmy Dean as the sausage huckster – a reinvention of his career. Now, James Dean of “Rebel without a Cause,” “East of Eden,” and “Giant” was a much cooler icon. This song was cool as well, so I guess I’ll cut Essex some slack on the Jimmy/James nomenclature.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mark-Almond: The City

A few weeks ago, I featured a cut by Mark-Almond as I had a dream about the band. As I was selecting that song for our Bubbling Under category on Saturday, I ran across a more jazz influenced tune that I was saving for Tasty Licks Tuesday. Since I only have 50 posts to go before I shut down this blog, I thought that there is no time like the present to feature this cut from the band’s 1971 debut album on Blue Thumb Records.

“The City” really provides a look at the talent the members of this little known band have. The guitar and vocals feature John Mark. The inspiration for the other half of the name, Johnny Almond, provides the sax and flute solos. Playing both electric and acoustic piano was Tommy Eyre, and Rodger Sutton was the bassist.

The band had no drummer at this point, but everyone played percussion. The highlights to “The City” are piano and woodwind parts. Incidentally, I saw a copy of the original issue of this album for sale for over $900. This is a little high in my book.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ryan Adams: Wasted Years

For my Monday Mélange feature, I found an acoustic live version of Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years” by American Ryan Adams. It was recorded nearly a year ago on Dutch radio station 3FM during Giel Beelen’s morning show. This is a nice interpretation of this tune.

The guitar Ryan is playing is a Buck Owens American, which was based on the prototype that Owens played on the very popular, but corny, TV show “Hee-Haw.” This guitar saw its rounds through a number of guitar companies. The original that Owens played was custom built by Semie Mosely of Mosrite Guitars, which was based in the same town as Owens – Bakersfield California.

Owens took the design to Chicago Musical Instruments and their Gibson division patented the instrument. While Gibson did not manufacture the guitar, CMI licensed the design to Harmony Guitars and they mass produced the instrument for sale at Sears & Roebuck under their Silvertone brand. The price was $82.95. A chipboard case was sold at $9.50. Owens received $2.50 for each guitar sold. It is estimated that over 5,000 of these guitars were sold.

The 1971 Sears catalog, advertised the guitar thusly:

Buck Owens Red, White and Blue American Guitar. Add color, great sound to the country and western scene with this Buck Owens grand-concert size guitar. $82.95. Bold stripes, bright stars, great response in this guitar that sounds as free-spirited as it looks. Select spruce top, finest wood for vibrant resonances. Bound rosewood fingerboard with 7 position markers that guide you to sure chording; 5 side markers, steel strings. Rosewood bridge; adjustable steel-rod reinforced neck prevents warping. Hardwood back and sides. Celluloid bound top and bottom edges. Celluloid headpiece with white edging. Individually covered machine heads. Red, White and blue flat-top guitar. Instruction book, pick. Guitar measures 40 1/2 x 15 1/8 x 4 1/8.

So it was a guitar designed by Mosrite, patented by Gibson, licensed by Chicago Musical Instruments, built by Harmony, marketed as a Silvertone, and branded as the “Buck Owens American.” Got that? How many of these do you see today – not very many.

While I thought this was a hokey instrument in its day, it appears from this Ryan Adams’ video that it really sounds great and must play great as well. By the way, Harmony’s Sovereign brand later reissued these guitars in a slightly different configuration. I believe these were made in Asia during the early 2000s and can be purchased via the Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace Country Store for under $500.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Stephen Stills & Manassas: Right Now

As their custom was to name battles after the nearest town, the Confederate States of America called the two northern Virginia battles that occurred during the summers of 1861 and 1862 as First and Second Manassas – their counterparts to the north referred to battles by the nearest body of water or other physical characteristic and the same were known as First and Second Bull Run.

When Stephen Stills was forming his next band following the release of his second solo album, he took his group for a photo shoot at the train station in Manassas, Virginia because of his interest in the American Civil War – or War of the Northern Aggression to those of you south of Mr. Mason’s and Mr. Dixon’s line of demarcation.

The cover was shot below the Manassas sign and hence became the name for the band as well as the first of the band’s two albums. Pity he didn’t name them as First and Second Manassas, but they were christened as “Manassas” and “Down the Road” respectively.

The double album, which was released in 1972, contained a supergroup of country/folk rock musicians, and included besides Stills who played nearly everything, Chris Hillman and Al Perkins from the Flying Burrito Brothers; Dallas Taylor and Fuzzy Samuels of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and Paul Harris and Joe Lala.

My college friend Greg Rector requested that I play “Right Now” from the album’s fourth side and fourth suite of music appropriately named “Rock & Roll is Here to Stay.” Thanks to Greg, he rekindled my interest in this album that I probably not listened to since it was released forty years ago.

While I never had a vinyl copy of this LP, I remember recording it from WDVE in Pittsburgh late one evening. The same week, they also featured (and I recorded) Neil Young’s “Harvest” and Graham Nash and David Crosby’s first duo album. I still have the tapes somewhere, but have not even entertained the thought of listening to them – until now.

“Right Now” features Stills on lead vocals and Chris Hillman on harmony vocals. Stills also provided the slide guitar – which is credited as “bottleneck guitar” in the liner notes. Joe Lala’s congas are appropriately placed in the mix along with Paul Harris’ keyboards.

Greg is going to see Crosby, Stills, and Nash and wanted to delve back in the archives in preparation for his trip. I had a chance to see CSN twice and Crosby and Nash once – so I know of what he speaks and it will be an exciting show. Thanks Greg for the inspiration – another winner as always.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Doobie Brothers: Rockin' Down The Highway

From the Doobie Brothers’ second album “Toulouse Street” – the album that put the band on the map – our Friday Flipside is “Rockin’ Down the Highway.” This Tom Johnston song was the “B” side to the bands interpretation of “Jesus is Just Alright” – a song originally recorded by the Arthur Reid Singers. The Doobies’ version charted as 35.

While the band’s first album only made it to 210 on the album charts, its successor “Toulouse Street” peaked at 21 and was certified platinum. “Rockin’ Down the Highway” was originally was released as the flip to the second single; however, it was later issued as a single proper and it failed to chart. In light of this, we’ll keep it in its flip side status for today’s post.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dire Straits: Walk Of Life

It’s TV Thursday and this year Burger King began using Dire Straits’ 1985 hit “Walk of Life” as part of their summer 2012 advertising campaign. I always thought the song had a Cajun flair with the synth part that is reminiscent of an accordion; however, the patch was an organ sound. I’m not sure what keyboards they used on this track, but being that the band had two keyboard players, it is pretty full sounding.

Even the production of this song has a Louisiana feel to it. From the album “Brothers in Arms,” “Walk of Life” was the follow-up single to the number one “Money for Nothing.” “Walk of Life” was a double crossover hit – charting at #7 on the Hot 100, at #6 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and at #4 in the Adult Contemporary format. What a great song.

Burger King Commercial