Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cross Ties Band: Joy Of My Life

I discovered this tune and the “Cross Ties Band” a couple of months ago when I was looking for sacred bouzouki music on YouTube. I immediately added the song to my YouTube favorites. “Joy of My Life” was written by multi-instrumentalist Johnny Wright, who is featured in this recording playing the penny whistle and Irish bouzouki.

Intrigued by his sound, I asked Johnny what tuning he was using and he responded that he is using the GDAD tuning that gives a drone-like quality to this song in the key of D. The addition of the bodhran by Bret Mulcay really adds to the Celtic flavor of this song that I am featuring as my Spiritual Sunday selection.

For more information, I suggest that you check out their website at The following bio of the band is taken directly from this site.
The Cross Ties Band is an acoustic, stringed instrument band based in northwest Georgia. Covering a broad spectrum of musical tastes, the versatile ensemble enjoys playing and singing bluegrass, gospel, a cappella spirituals, Sacred Harp hymns, and traditional Irish music. With "something for everybody," the group is seen regularly at churches, festivals, and private social events throughout Georgia and the southeast.

Although Cross Ties was only officially formed as a band in 2003, some band members have been performing together since 1987 as The Universal Pickers. Cross Ties and its predecessor group have completed four concert tours of Germany since 1997, as well as appeared locally with well-known artists such as The Inspirations, The Isaacs, IIIrd Tyme Out, and Doc Watson. The band has produced seven recording projects since 1990, with the most recent since the summer of 2004: “Makin’ Tracks”, “Wonderful Over There”, and “Life's Highway”. The band recently re-released its 1993 recording "Original Sacred Harp" on CD. This recording has gained national attention as a selection requested by the Library of Congress.

The Cross Ties Band consists of Johnny Wright, Randy Garrett, Randy Ellis, and Bret Mulcay. The band's repertoire reflects the diverse talents and backgrounds of the individual members, and a Cross Ties show is full of instrument swapping and unexpected combinations of harmony. Coupled with enjoyable comedy and audience interaction, the end result is uplifting and entertaining.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Traffic: Mr. Fantasy

Today’s feature album is Traffic’s debut LP: Mr. Fantasy, which was released in late 1967. The title cut (more or less) “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is our lead cut. If the voice sounds familiar, it is Steve Winwood, who had an illustrious solo career in the 1980s as well as being the front man for the Traffic, Blind Faith, the Spencer Davis Group, and Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

While not their best album and a little more eclectic than their later recordings, the “Mr. Fantasy” LP has some nice gems that we will also feature. The song “Dear Mr. Fantasy” features harmonica, but in remains uncredited on the album, so I am not sure which one of the band’s multi-instrumentalists are playing it. It could be Winwood, Mason, or Wood. I am leaning towards Chris Wood being the purveyor of the mouth organ, but alas, I cannot be sure of this.

The UK Version of the Album Cover featuring all four members

I became aware of Traffic and their music when Jim Roach on WDVE highlighted a three hour show dedicated to their music. I believe that Traffic was one of the first groups I heard him feature and was able to capture with my new AM/FM/Cassette player that I got for Christmas 1972. I taped this special and listened to it religiously. During the next several months, I found this and their second LP, “Traffic,” in a cutout bin in a F.W. Woolworths. I bought them both and soon was fully appreciating the talents of this band.

Like many albums that originated in Britain, American record companies often tinkered with the covers, album names, and track listing. When United Artist became the American licensee of this recording, the psychedelic cover featuring the lineup at the time of the recording on the cover as released in the UK was scrapped for a more conventional photo shot of the band’s lineup at the time of the release. Dave Mason, who appears on the album, left the band in 1967, and only Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, and Jim Capaldi appear on the cover.

Mason would join the band for the Traffic LP and exit again only to rejoin a third time for the tour that produced the 1971 LP, “Welcome to the Canteen.” In addition to the cover change, UA management decided to rename the LP as “Heaven is in Your Mind” after another one of the tracks.

First US release sans Dave Mason under the temporary new title

Heaven is in your Mind

In time, United Artists reverted back to the original title, but keeping the photo of the band used on the previous incarnation of the album.

Second version of the US release that reverted to the original album title

The American release also featured a different line up of tracks and, unusual for a US release, more songs than the UK version. The US version had 12 songs versus the UK version with 10. This was unlike Beatles recordings that had less cuts than their British counterparts – most of which were issued under different album titles.

Notably added to the mix were two British singles that were not part of the UK LP release: “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe.” Previously unreleased in the US, these classic Traffic hits were now presented to the American buying public. “Paper Sun,” released in May 1967, peaked in the UK at #5. The US version also included “Hole in My Shoe” and its flipside “Smiling Phases.” This single was released in August topped the British charts at #2.

Paper Sun

Hole in My Shoe

If all of the LP’s songs were available on YouTube, I would have provided a YouTube playlist. Because they are not, I’ll leave you with one of the album’s ballads, “No Face, No Name, No Number.”

No Face, No Name, No Number

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lorence Hud: Sign Of The Gypsy Queen

In 1981, Canadian rockers April Wine recorded a song that was moderate Canadian hit in 1973 by Lorence Hud – a name unfamiliar to most outside of Canada. Here on Friday Firsts, I am please to present the original version of “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” by Lorence Hud.

Due to Canadian Content laws, Canadian radio is required to play a certain percentage of Canadian artists. During the 1970s, 25% of all music played had to be Canadian in origin; currently, the percentage is 35%. This created numerous opportunities for Canadian artists to be signed to record labels and to have their music played via numerous broadcast outlets in the world’s second largest country (by land mass). Unfortunately, many artists who were signed to Canadian labels never had the opportunity to break through internationally – so their music may be unknown elsewhere.

In 1972, Canadian Lorence Hud was signed to a two album deal with A&M Canada. On his eponymous debut album Hud played on all the of instruments and the opening cut, “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” was released as a single the very next year – topping the Canadian charts at #16.

Lorence Hud's Self Titled Debut LP

While obviously known within his homeland, Hud’s “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” was virtually unknown elsewhere until it was released in 1981 by fellow Canadian’s April Wine on their “Nature of the Beast” LP. The song was the band’s second American single from the album and followed the release of the rock ballad, “Just Between You and Me.” While Hud’s original was a hit in Canada, April Wine’s version became an album rock favorite elsewhere. Although the single’s performance on Billboard’s Hot 100 was lackluster at best - #57, “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” peaked at #19 on airplay charts in 1981.

April Wine Covering the Hud Original

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Isley Brothers: That Lady

It’s TV Thursday and today’s feature is an Isley Brothers’ Top-10 hit from 1973: “That Lady.” I heard (and saw) today’s song this week as the latest tune to be used for the music of a Swiffer commercial. The song was an upgraded version of the a song that had be part of the Isley’s repertoire since 1963 – that was released as “Who’s That Lady” on the 1963 LP “Twisting and Shouting.”

This song represented a number of changes for the Isleys. It signaled the addition of younger brothers Ernie Isley and Marvin Isley and Marvin’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper as becoming full-time instrumentalist members of a band that was led by older brothers O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald Isley. It also was the first release on their T-Neck label’s new distribution contract with Epic Records and CBS.

The new sound with the screaming Hendrix influenced guitar of Ernie Isley with the Santanaesque percussion signaled a new sound for the 3+3 (3 older plus 3 younger members) period of the Isley Brothers. Ernie, who has never lived up to the reputation of being the next Hendrix, is a talented guitarist despite the connection to his mentor Hendrix.

Monikers such as the “next this or that” usually have a disastrous effect on the careers of those saddled with the reputation of someone else. Although, Ernie had the opportunity to learn from Hendrix, who lived with the Isley family for a few years, his own talent and sound stands on its own. Unfortunately, he has never been accorded the fame that matched his own talent.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Burton Cummings: My Own Way To Rock

Today’s feature is an oldie (but not a moldie) as Burton Cummings rocks out with his former band the Guess Who on one of his solo hits, “My Own Way To Rock.” This was the title cut from Cummings second solo album after leaving the Guess Who and, as he pounds the keys, he proves that the primal rock and roll instrument was not the guitar, but the piano. In the song he evokes memories of Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Whether he is fronting his own band or the Guess Who, Burton proves that he is a class act.

I missed this tune when it was released in 1977, as it apparently was not given any airplay in the Huntington (WV)/Ashland (KY) radio market. If they were looking for a ballad like Cummings' previous hit, they were looking at the wrong record. This may be the reason why“My Own Way to Rock’s” only had a dismal chart performance at #74. I never heard this song until 1982 and this was when I was introduced to it by a trio of musicians: Keith Fain, Meredith Trent, and Dave Cook.

This trio was looking to expand to a quintet and I was recommended by a mutual friend, Greg Morrison, to try out. I had two keyboards at the time – a Wurlitzer Electric Piano and a Sequential Circuits Pro One monophonic synthesizer. I brought my Silvertone Twin Twelve Amp and keyboards to Meredith’s home where they had me audition.

Luckily, I passed and one of the songs they had me try out on was a number they already had worked up as a trio – “My Own Way To Rock.” After auditioning a few female vocalists, a friend of Keith’s, Debrin Bennett (now Debrin Jenkins), was asked to audition, and she was hired on the spot. The band was named Audio Game, as a twist on the video game craze sweeping the nation.

Prophet 5 Synth

We had great synergy with this band and I always loved playing this song that they introduced to me. By the time we had our first gig in December 82, I had added an Farfisa-like organ made by Roland, but sold under the brand name of Ace Tone, and a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. The keyboard sitting on top of Burton Cummings' piano is the Prophet 5. This was the standard keyboard that every keyboardist in 1982 had to have. Originally sold with 40 sounds, Sequential Circuits added 80 sounds in late 1982 and offered a retrofit kit for owners of the 40 bank model.

The list price on the Prophet 5 at the time was $6,000. I was fortunate that my boss at WCIR, Shane Southern, had purchased one to use at the radio station at cost for $3,000 earlier in the year. Shane was impressed with the helicopter sounds that were used in the film "Apocalypse Now," and so he purchased it hoping that we could use it for sound effects.  I was the only one that fooled with it and Shane, wishing to re-coop his investment, sold it to me for his cost of $3,000.

I had to take out two loans (which I did simultaneously without communicating this to either bank). One loan was for $1,000 for a year and the other was for $2,000 for two years. I ordered the retrofit for the additional 80 sounds and had it sent to the nearest authorized repair center, Hollywood Music in McKees Rocks, PA.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I secured the store to do the work on Black Friday. When I arrived at the store that morning, they had not yet received the kit. We worked out a deal that I could meet them the next weekend at WVU, as their technicians were to be installing a sound system in the Mountain Lair. I did and they did the work on the spot, just in time for our first gig the next weekend.

As far as I know, only two bands in Southern West Virginia had a Prophet 5 – Audio Game and my friend Roger Riser in Fantasia. Roger is a much better player than me and could really make the Prophet sing.

As for the Prophet, I played the horn parts during the riff that Randy Bachman plays on guitar on “My Own Way to Rock.” Mostly, I played the Wurlitzer on this song and was given two solos that were split by Keith’s guitar solo. One I did on the Wurlitzer and the other on harmonica. This is the song that is responsible for me beating the electric piano to death. I don’t know how many reeds I broke during gigs on that song, but I bought a whole slew of them and got pretty adept at switching out reeds and tuning them during a 20 minute break between sets. The reeds all came in one size and a soldiering iron a set of small files were need to get the tines to the right pitch in a hurry.

By the time I unloaded the Wurlitzer in 1987, it had been played so hard the pickups were dying. In order to get enough volume in the upper register, I had to play it though a wah-wah pedal that was wide open. What memories. Keith, Meredith, and I were in three bands, and with every one, “My Own Way to Rock” was a song we played every night.

As mentioned earlier that the primal rock instrument was the piano, let me introduce to you what is considered by many as the first rock and roll song: Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88.” The song was a tribute to the recently introduced Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The song contains a rocking piano, saxophones, and distorted guitar.

This may be the first recording of distortion, and according to Ike Turner, the guitar amp had been left in the trunk of the car and got wet. The song was recorded at Sam Phillips Sun Records in Memphis in 1951. Phillips sold the masters to Leonard & Phil Chess of Chicago and the record was released under lead vocalist Jackie Brenston’s name instead of the band’s name: Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm. Ike, in his characteristic style, was not amused by the mixup.

Jackie Brenston: “Rocket 88”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gillian Welch & Company: The Weight

Well it’s not a traditional song, but eventually “The Weight“ may make it into the pantheon of American traditional music during the next hundred years. Originally sung by Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band, this tune has been covered by numerous others – one of my favorites being the Staple Singers’version. Here’s excellent live rendition by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and the Old Crow Medicine Show. Enjoy.

David Rawlings almost has Levon Helm’s vocals pegged perfectly. In case you are wondering, the small archtop guitar that he is playing is a 1935 Epiphone Olympic. From my understanding it was a mid priced guitar when it was issued and it certainly has an interesting tone.  Welch, Rawlings, and the Old Crow Medicine Show really do this song justice with their instrumentation and vocal harmonies.

There has been much speculation on the interpretation of the song's lyrics over the years. When Robbie Robertson wrote this song for “Music from Big Pink,” he wasn’t evoking Nazareth of Galilee, but rather Nazareth, Pennsylvania – the home of the C.F. Martin Company. All of the characters in the song are based on real people that came into the Band’s circle of friends over the years. I can’t tell you what it all means, but it is a great tune nonetheless.

The Band’s Original Version


I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead;
I just need some place where I can lay my head.
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, and "No!", was all he said.

Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go, but m'friend can stick around."

Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgement Day.
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, woncha stay an' keep Anna Lee company?"

Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
He said, "I will fix your rags, if you'll take Jack, my dog."
I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man."
He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can."

Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

Catch a Cannonball, now, take me down the line
My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time.
To get back to Miss Annie, you know she's the only one.
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone.

Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Corrs: Little Wing

As it’s Covers Monday I am featuring a cover that I posted on Facebook in August 2009 before starting this blog in mid September. Today’s feature is Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” as covered by the Celtic influenced pop band the Corrs. These Irish siblings are ultra talented.

I found the Corrs rendition of "Little Wing" while looking for Eric Clapton's version of this song because I owned the Derek and the Dominoes release of this song before ever hearing Jimi Hendrix’s original. “Little Wing” was the flip side of the “Bell Bottom Blues” single that was released in 1973.

The only bad thing about this video is that Caroline Corr, who plays the bodhran (the hand drum), looks bored out of her mind. She does not, however, appear like this on any of the other songs that come from this MTV Unplugged performance.

Jimi Hendrix Original

The Dobro®

Besides Andrea Corr’s fantastic vocals on the Corrs’ recording, the most interesting musical aspect is the lead/slide guitar parts. Guitarist Anthony Drennan is playing a chrome plated, round neck Dobro® made from bell-brass. My brother had one of these and the tone is just as sweet in person.

Original Music Instrument Company, the owner of the Dobro® trademark in the 70s and 80s, began making the bell-brass models in the early 1970s. Gibson, who currently owns Dobro®, no long makes bell-brass models. Since this song is in Em, the slide is played in standard tuning. – note – he only uses it on the G, B, & E strings.

The term Dobro® is often referred to two things: the brand name of the instruments and to a particular style of playing these instruments. The Dobro® brand was developed by the Dopyera brothers when they left the National String Instrument Company. John Dopyera designed and developed the first resonator guitars for National. As National owned the two resonator guitar patents, the Dopyera Brothers had to develop a new design.

Besides National's triple resonator instruments (Tri-Cones), the National single resonator design uses a cone attached to the bridge piece called a biscuit or cookie. The Dobro© patent was based on an inverted cone and an aluminum “spider” and bridge that sits above the cone on eight legs – hence the name “spider.”

Biscuit Bridge (top) & Spider Bridge (bottom)

Both National and Dobro© guitars were/are available with a round (Spanish) neck for playing as a standard guitar or with a square (Hawaiian) neck with a raised nut for playing Hawaiian steel guitar music. When country musicians began using the square neck model, the name Dobro® became synonymous with this style of playing.

My Regal Dobro® from circa 1937 (round neck with raised bridge attachment)
While the brand has been genericized by the public, the trademark owners over the years have fiercely protected the brand. When the Dopyera’s regained the trademark for their Original Musical Instrument Company in 1970, they protested use of the trademark for anything but official Dobro® instruments.

Under OMI, the company used the brand name for both biscuit and spider bridge models; however, Gibson (the owner since 1993) only uses the Dobro© brand for models using the traditional Dobro® spider bridge. All other Gibson marketed resonators are sold under the Hound Dog or Epiphone brand names. Hound Dog was the brand name used by OMI until they could secure the Dobro® brand back from Moserite, which owned it during the 1960s.

I hope you enjoyed this excellent rendition of a classic featuring a bell-brass Dobro©.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Waterson Carthy: Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?

Here’s a wonderful a cappella version of the classic hymn “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?” The blending of the five voices of Waterson Carthy almost has an Appalachian feel to it. This is a perfect illustration the that the sounds and songs of America are not that far from their forebears from the British Isles.

Three-fifths of the lineup of this English traditional quintet are related; Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson are husband and wife and are joined by their daughter Eliza Carthy, who normally plays fiddle. The additional two members are Tim Van Eyken and Saul Rose, who are often seen playing the melodeon (a pump reed-organ similar to a harmonium).

The song was written in 1897 by Eliza E. Hewitt and John R. Sweeny. The song reminds me of an old joke that speaks of the competition between churches. In this one large town three churches located on different corners of the same intersection didn't get along. One Sunday each of them opened their meeting with a rousing song service. It was a warm day and all the doors and windows of each church building were wide open. One congregation began singing the old hymn, "Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?" The strains had barely faded away when the congregation across the street started singing, "No, Not One, No, Not One!" They had scarcely finished when the third church began singing, "Oh, That Will Be Glory for Me."


I am thinking today of that beautiful land
I shall reach when the sun goeth down;
When through wonderful grace by my Savior I stand,
Will there be any stars in my crown?

Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown
When at evening the sun goeth down?
When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest
Will there be any stars in my crown?

In the strength of the Lord let me labor and pray,
Let me watch as a winner of souls,
That bright stars may be mine in the glorious day,
When His praise like the sea billow rolls.

Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown
When at evening the sun goeth down?
When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest
Will there be any stars in my crown?

O what joy it will be when His face I behold,
Living gems at his feet to lay down!
It would sweeten my bliss in the city of gold,
Should there be any stars in my crown.

Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown
When at evening the sun goeth down?
When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest
Will there be any stars in my crown?

Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown
When at evening the sun goeth down?
When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest
Will there be any stars in my crown?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Buddy Holly's Greatest Hits

Today’s album feature is “Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits” and the featured tune is an uncharted single release by Buddy Holly and the Crickets: “Everyday.”

In 1959, I remember my oldest brother coming home from school being upset that one of his favorite musicians, Buddy Holly, had died. Although I was only three years old at the time, I can remember this as music was an important part of our home. We’ll discuss this event further on February 3 – “The Day the Music Died.” Flash forward 11 years to 1970 and as a 14 year-old with disposable income from a paper route, I made the conscious decision to make the bold step to move from buying 45 rpm singles to long playing albums.

With that decision, I knew what I wanted – a Buddy Holly album. I had walked through the snow in the woods that separated Arlington Plan from Green Valley to the now defunct Eastland Shopping Center. At the National Record Mart in Eastland’s “Underground Mall,” I sought out the bin that held the Buddy Holly albums. Not sure which one to purchase, I settled on what was an excellent decision that would expose me to the best of the best.

The album, which had been released in March 1967, jumped out of the bin (figuratively) with its screaming yellow cover. It was titled “Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits.” He was wearing the old style 1950s vintage eyeglasses from his early days – not the heavy, ultra modern glasses from a few years later.

On its cover were the nebulous words “enhanced for stereo” – whatever that meant – and 40 years later – I’m still not sure what it means other than splitting the mono track into two tracks. Perhaps they added reverb to one channel – that’s what I would have done. I’m not sure what MCA was doing in those days with their recordings, but I would guess that some adjustment was made to one of the channels to give that faux stereo effect. Nonetheless, at the time I only had a mono player and it really didn’t matter.

The Complete LP

“Everyday” was one of my favorite cuts from this album and was co-written by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, the song was published by Petty’s company, “Nor Va Jak Publishing,” a BMI affiliated company. The company’s name was an abbreviated form of the names of the members of the Norman Petty Trio: Norman Petty, Violet Ann (Vi) Petty, and Jack Vaughn.

Recorded at producer Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, the song featured Buddy Holly on acoustic guitar, Jerry Allison in slapping his thighs for percussion, Joe Maudlin on stand-up bass, and Vi Petty on celesta.

The Celesta

The celesta is an interesting little instrument. It is a keyboard version of the glockenspiel and has a bell like sound. If you’ve heard the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” you’ve heard the celesta. In 1979, I had the opportunity to use a celesta during the multi-night performances of “The Happy Haven” by the Marshall University Theatre.

The Celesta also known as the Celeste

During my first semester at Marshall, I had the opportunity of taking a class by a visiting professor from England, “Dr. D. Keith Peacock.” During the previous semester in the Contemporary British Theatre course, Dr. Peacock approached me about composing the music for a play that he hoped to produce in February 1979. John Ardin’s “The Happy Haven,” a play about a home for the aged that had numerous songs, but no accompanying musical score.

Program from "The Happy Haven"

Dr. Peacock and I set about to create a musical score for the play and was enlisted to play piano, celesta, and mandolin for the four nights of performance; however, I am only credited in the program for piano. Only one other musician was utilized – Glen Allen provided the percussion for these performances. This was the only time I had the opportunity to play a celesta and the only time I was involved in the music for a play. It was fun and an experience I would never trade.

NPR’s Bob Edwards with more on the Celesta

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fleetwood Mac: Sentimental Lady

When the band Paris broke up, guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch finished up the songs that were projected for the band’s fated third album and released it as his first solo LP: “French Kiss.” Along with the LP, the first single, “Sentimental Lady,” was resurrected from the material he recorded with Fleetwood Mac. While the original from the LP “Bare Trees” was released as a single, it failed to chart, although it received some minimal album radio airplay. As this Friday’s First cut, I am featuring the original Fleetwood Mac version which also included Bob Welch on vocals.

When Welch redid the tune, he did the following: he sped it up slightly, he cut out a verse, and shortened the song from 4:34 to 2:58. In the 1970s, a single under three minutes had better chances for radio airplay. The tactic worked. In addition, he enlisted two of his former Fleetwood Mac band mates, Christine McVie and Mick Fleetwood to provide respective backing vocals and drums. In a turn of fate, his replacement in Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham played guitar and sang backup. Buckingham also arranged the tune and he and McVie were the single’s producers.

The song was written for and about Welch’s first wife, Nancy. It became a signature tune for Fleetwood Mac during the pre-Buckingham/Nicks FM days and signaled a change in direction for the band. Donald Brackett in Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos (2007) assessed today’s feature: “[T]he best of their [Fleetwood Mac’s] new softer and highly commercial direction was conveyed by Bob Welch’s almost too gentle “Sentimental Lady,” a perfectly crafted love song that was both a hit for Mac and an even bigger hit for Welch when he re-released it as a solo record several years later” (p. 90).

The Hit Version

The Forgotten Fleetwood Mac Member

Unfortunately for Welch, he was not chosen to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Fleetwood Mac. The inductees included Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Jeremy Spencer. While most of the inductees are unquestioned, I feel that the inclusion of Danny Kirwin and the omission of Bob Welch was a gross error. The inductees included the popular version of Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer who were founding members, but also included Kirwin who was from the band’s middle period.

A comparison of the contributions of Kirwan and Welch show that Welch’s either equaled or exceeded the contributions of Kirwin.

Danny KirwanBob Welch
Years in Band4.5 years4 years
Exit from the BandFired on TourQuit at end of Tour
Albums with FM45
Song Writer17 Songs20 Songs
Song Collaborator3 Songs3 Songs
Average Album Chart Position8562

In addition to “Sentimental Lady,” two of Welch’s other songs received extensive album airplay in the US. These included “Hypnotized” (from “Mystery to Me”) and “Bermuda Triangle” (from “Heroes are Hard to Find”). I have no qualms in regard to including both Kirwan and Welch as inductees, as their contributions during the middle period of the band were extensive; however, to feature either one without the other is a “mystery to me” (a little FM humor there). Oh well, since the induction occurred 11 years ago, it does not seem that Bob Welch will be recognized for providing four years of great music with Fleetwood Mac.

Next week, Canada's April Wine recycles a little known Canadian recording from several years earlier.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Phoenix: 1901

Another late day with my post and hopefully I can get back on schedule by the weekend. It is TV Thursdays and our feature song is “1901” by Phoenix. From their LP “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” this song about Paris in 1901 and is one of those tunes that is not named for the primary hook lyric. In this example, “Falling” may have made sense for the title of the song.

Live on the David Letterman Show June 18, 2009

I was impressed that Phoenix could imitate the studio recording in a live setting; it is nearly mirror perfect. Unfortunately, the Shure SM58 microphone takes a beating at the end of the song.

Phoenix is a six piece alternative rock band from Versailles, France – which is nowhere near North Versailles, Pennsylvania – my hometown.

I selected “1901” for TV Thursdays as it has been used for nearly a year in a number of Cadillac commercials and it really makes a great music bed for ads. When you listen to the snippet in the commercial compared to the actual song, you really see what you are missing.

Caddy Ad

Their fourth LP, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” has been nominated for the 2010 Grammy Award for the best Alternative Music Album. We’ll just have to wait and see how they fare. While “1901” had a lackluster performance on Billboard’s Hot 100, it charted at #8 and #4 respectively on Billboard’s Rock and Alternative charts. It’s a great tune with a lot of energy, that I would have missed had it not been utilized by GM for their Cadillac commercials.

The Original Studio Mix

Acoustic Live Version


Counting all different ideas drifting away
Past and present -- they don't matter.
Now the future's sorted out
Watch, you're moving in elliptical pattern
Think it's not what you say
What you say is way too complicated
For a minute thought I couldn't tell how to fall out.

It's 20 seconds 'til the last call, going "hey hey hey hey hey hey"
Lie down, you know it's easy like we did it all summer long
And I'll be anything you ask and more, going "hey hey hey hey hey hey"
It's not a miracle we needed, and no I wouldn't let you think so
Falling, falling, falling, falling

Girlfriend, know your girlfriend's drifting away
Past and present, 1855-1901
Watch them build up a material tower
Think it's not gonna stay anyway
Think it's overrated
For a minute, thought I couldn't tell how to fall out

It's 20 seconds to the last call, going "hey hey hey hey hey"
Lie down, you know it's easy, like we did it all summer long
And I'll be anything you ask and more, going "hey hey hey hey hey"
It's not a miracle we needed, and no, I wouldn't let you think so
Falling, falling, falling, falling
Falling, falling, falling, falling

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)

One of my favorite songs from the sixties is the psychedelic number by the forgotten band, The Electric Prunes. “I had too much to Dream (Last Night)” became a classic hit that one rarely hears even on oldies radio stations. The song was written by Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz who were contracted to Four Star Music Publishing. While the writers envisioned a rock tune ala the Rolling Stones, the publisher released a demo with Jerry Fuller singing it as a ballad. Neither songwriter liked the demo. The success of the Electric Prunes rock version, which charted at #11, provides evidence that the writers were correct.

“I had too much to Dream (Last Night)” was one of the earlier uses of backwards recording techniques that continues to the present. While software can render a passage backwards today, it was physically done by reversing the reel-to-reel tape to create special effects and in some cases, hidden backwards messages. The jury is out on whether some of the songs that were accused of backwards masking occurred or the words that seem to be present came about purely coincidentally. ɯǝssɐƃǝ ǝʌıן ʇɥıs ʇo ןısʇǝu pouʇ.

In the case of this song, the backwards parts include all of the lead guitar riffs. This can be mimicked today with an effects pedal that causes the attack of the note to fade in much like it would if you flipped the tape and played it backwards. The most prominent backwards feature is found in the intro to the song and it sounds like a giant wasp is swooping down upon the listeners. The similar sounds found within the remainder of the song were created the same way as the backwards intro – only they are being run forwards.

That amazing sound is explained by Prunes vocalist James Lowe: "We were recording at Leon Russell's house, and you couldn't see the studio from the control room. We were recording on a four-track, and just flipping the tape over and re-recording when we got to the end. Dave [Hassinger - the producer] cued up a tape and didn't hit 'record,' and the playback in the studio was way up: ear-shattering vibrating jet guitar. Ken had been shaking his Bigsby wiggle stick with some fuzztone and tremolo at the end of the tape. Forward it was cool. Backward it was amazing. I ran into the control room and said, 'What was that?' They didn't have the monitors on so they hadn't heard it. I made Dave cut if off and save it for later."

Two Versions of Vibrato (also called tremolo)
used on "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)"

Physical Vibrato- Bigsby Whammy Bar

 Electronic Vibrato from a Fender Amp with Speed & Intensity Controls

The Beatles “Rain”

While tape effects in commercial recording had been used for years by artists like Les Paul, Ferrante & Teicher, and Ross Bagdasarian (David Seville), the first use of backwards recording was utilized by the Beatles on the flip side of “Paperback Writer”: "Rain." John Lennon’s vocal at the end is flipped to create a backwards message, which is a line from the song.

Geoff Emerick who worked as the engineer also tinkered with the speed of the tape. He recorded the backing track faster than normal – which caused it to be at a slower speed and lower pitch at normal playback speed. Additionally, the lead vocals were recorded at a slower speed. When played at normal speed, the vocals were faster and higher pitched. The Beatles would experiment even further with tape speed and backwards effects – producing even more unique sounds on future recordings. ɐןן ɐʇ ɐuʎʍɥǝɹǝ uoʇ ɐɹǝ ʎon ʍɥǝu ouɔǝ ɐʇ dןɐɔǝs ʇʍo ıu qǝ ʎon ɔɐu ɥoʍ.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coyote Run: Finnean's Dance

There are those occasions where I will not have a great deal to say about a particular artist or song, as I prefer to let the music speak for itself. Today is one of those Traditional Tuesdays, as I feature an American band from Williamsburg, VA named Coyote Run and their song, “Finnean’s Dance.”

Although the current lineup of Coyote Run is pared down to a four piece – sans a second guitarist as seen in the video – they are still very high energy performers. I came upon this band when someone on Facebook passed a link to one of their videos onto my wife. It was an epiphany for me, as it was the first time in a long time that we agreed on music – not a normal occurrence around our house. I have used the occasion to introduce her to a number of artists of which she was formerly unaware.

Coyote Run was formed in 1999 by front man David Doersch, whose theatrical background serves as a pivot point for this band’s selection of songs and their original writing. Some of the comments by the critics include the following:
"Imagine Jethro Tull on Broadway and you start to get the picture." -- Sam McDonald, Music Editor, Daily Press, Norfolk, VA

"The audience levitated three feet off their chairs, that's how good Coyote Run was." -- Rich Warren, Host of Folk Stage, WFMT, Chicago, IL

"The take-no-prisoners approach to Celtic music." -- Gene Shay, WXPN, Philadelphia, PA

"Listening to Coyote Run reminds me of a large...library where every book you open gives you a view of something fascinating." -- Art Ketchen, Celtic Beat Magazine, Cambridge, MA
They are worth a listen in my book. I will leave you with another of their original tunes that also showcases their theatrical side. It is called, “But for the Blood.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Marillion: Abraham, Martin, & John

In the US, today is a legal holiday celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Because of this, I thought it fitting to feature the song “Abraham, Martin, & John.” Since I feature cover recordings on Monday, I wanted to find a version that was less familiar than Dion's 1968 hit single and stumbled upon Marillion’s live version.

It is interesting that a British prog rock band would perform this song in concert; however, they do an excellent version of the tune. The song celebrates the lives of four men who were instrumental in improving race relations and civil rights in the US: Abraham Lincoln; John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Robert F. Kennedy. All four, died at the hands of an assassin’s bullet.

Dion's Original Version

Dion’s version takes the characters chronologically with Abraham, John, Martin, & Bobby; however, Marillion’s live version follows the title and takes the story line from Abraham to Martin and then flashes back to John. As with the title, the Bobby Kennedy verse was eliminated from their rendition of this tune.

Songwriter Dick Holler composed this song in 1968 following the deaths of King in April and Bobby Kennedy in June of that same year. Produced by Phil Gernhard, the single was the second collaborative effort by Gernhard and Holler. Previously they cowrote the Royal Guardsmen hit from 1966, “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron.” Both the Royal Guardsmen and Dion DiMucci recorded for Laurie Records which released both songs.

A total of five versions placed within the US Top 40 making it the only song to chart by five different artists in the Top 40. Besides Dion’s #4 hit, the other charted versions of the song were recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (#33), Marvin Gaye (#9), Moms Mobley (#35), and Tom Clay’s medley of “Abraham, Martin, & John” and “What the World Needs Now.” Clay's version, which also included recordings of the news reports of the shootings, was the highest charting cover; it peaked at eight on the singles chart in 1971. In addition, BMI (Broadcast Music International performing rights society) certified the song as receiving over four million airplay performances.


Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free someday soon,
and it's a-gonna be one day...

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blind Faith: Presence Of The Lord

Today’s Spiritual Sunday feature is a live version of an Eric Clapton song that was originally recorded by the super-group Blind Faith on their only album. The song is a testimony to all that a holy and wholly faithfulness can be found in the “Presence of the Lord.” The feature version is from a 1969 concert in London’s Hyde Park.

In addition to his lead vocals, Steve Winwood is playing the classic Hammond B3 organ. In the middle of the song, you can hear an audible growl - this is Hammond's overdrive as Winwood plays in the lower register. Clapton is playing a Fender Telecaster.

Blind Faith included Ric Grech, formerly of Family, on bass; Ginger Baker on drums; Clapton; and Steve Winwood. Formed in the wake of breakups of both Cream and Traffic, Blind Faith would earn the moniker of being the first "super-group." While Clapton and Baker were members of Cream, It wasn’t the only time that Clapton and Winwood had collaborated. In March 1966, Winwood sang lead in the short termed band known as Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

The Powerhouse also included Paul Jones on harmonica, Jack Bruce on bass, Pete York on drums, and Ben Palmer on piano. York and Winwood were with the Spencer Davis Group at the time, while Jones and Bruce were members of Manfred Mann.

American producer Joe Boyd recorded four sides of the Powerhouse; however, only three were ever released on Elektra’s “What Shakin’” compilation album that also features Tom Rush, Al Kooper, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Because of contractual obligations, Winwood appeared under the name Steve Anglo; however, his is credited as “Steve Angelo” on the LP.

The chronology of when Clapton wrote this tune in relation to when he was considered born again is a little fuzzy and it appears that he actually wrote and recorded the song before this event. Clapton’s religious heritage, as with many Brits, was the Anglican Church and he gained an appreciation of seeking God individually. While many of his contemporaries turned to Hare Krishna, Buddhism, Baha’i, and numerous eastern religions, Clapton returned to the Christianity of his roots.

Part of this return was the influence of a friend and two fans. The friend was Delaney Bramlett and Delaney and his wife Bonnie were the opening act on this tour. After Blind Faith, Clapton toured as a member of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.

According to Clapton, Delaney exuded a "persona of a Southern Baptist preacher, delivering a fire and brimstone message.” This excitement and Bramlett’s inspirational singing had a powerful effect on Clapton. One night following a performance, two young men sought Clapton backstage and began witnessing to him. This was what he needed to move him further on his spiritual journey. Although, Eric has not always maintained a close walk with God; he has come back to a place where he finds solace in the “Presence of the Lord.”

In addition to Blind Faith’s recorded version, “Presence of the Lord” shows up on two Derek and the Dominoes LPs. The same October 1970 recording at the Fillmore East appears on both the 1973 album “In Concert” and the 1994 CD, “Live at the Fillmore.” It also was the flip side of the “Why Does Love Have to be so Sad” single from “In Concert.”

It is Clapton at his best as he is singing lead and playing his trademark guitar as front man of Derek and the Dominoes. Here’s that recording for another side of “Presence of the Lord.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Badfinger: Straight Up

As every Saturday, I feature an album that had some significance to me over the years. Some of these are well known, while others are not. Today’s post is in that former category. Badfinger’s “Straight Up,” their third album under the Bandfinger brand, produced two hits: “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.”

Today’s feature cut is a Pete Ham composition that was slated to be the album’s initial single release; however, producer George Harrison pulled the plug on “Name of the Game” from being a single.

While this song is an excellent number and shows the lyrical prowess of the late Pete Ham, Harrison was correct in vetoing this particular song as the first single from “Straight Up.” In my estimation, the decision to release “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue” was calculated and proved to be an accurate assessment of the recording. “Day After Day” peaked on the Billboard charts at #4 and was Badfinger’s highest charting single of their career.

Had the second single, “Baby Blue” performed somewhat better than #14, a third single would have been in order and “Name of the Game” was probably the next best candidate for a single release. With that said, there are other excellent songs on this album such as “Suitcase” and “Sweet Tuesday Morning” that I also particularly liked.

Before purchasing this album, I had already secured both American singles. “Baby Blue” was my particular favorite of the two. In late spring ’72 while shopping with family, I bought “Straight Up” at the now defunct East Hills Shopping Center on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. I couldn’t wait to get home to play the album.

Recording Issues

It was years later that I learned of the production problems that led to the final mix and release of this LP. It was hard for me to believe that Badfinger, who had so much talent and who were obviously under the wings of their mentors the Beatles, would have had so much trouble recording and releasing this album – which I consider their best. Charting on Billboard’s album charts at #31, it was, however, not their highest charting album. That distinction belonged to their second LP “No Dice,” which did slightly better at #28.

I had always been curious as to why both George Harrison and Todd Rundgren were both enlisted as producers. No satisfactory explanation as to why the duo shared production credits was given at the time, but this would be part of the turmoil that plagued this album that took nearly a year from recording the first tracks to its eventual release.

The initial recordings were originally produced by Geoff Emerick, an audio engineer at EMI who learned his craft under the tutelage of Norman “Hurricane” Smith. Emerick had produced Badfinger’s previous album “No Dice,” which included the top ten hit, “No Matter What.” With the success of “No Dice,” it proved to be reason enough to bring Emerick back for this chore.

Before the album could be pressed, George Harrison worried that it lacked the quality needed for an Apple Records' release. (It makes me wonder what he was thinking with his own "Electronic Sounds" LP).  As a principle partner in Apple Corps, Harrison decided that he needed to take control of the production duties and began redoing the tracks with the band. Harrison completed four of the songs for the LP: “Day After Day,” “I’d Day Babe,” “Name of the Game” and “Suitcase.”

On “Day After Day,” Harrison and guitarist Pete Ham both play slide guitar and Leon Russell was enlisted to play piano on the same track. On “Suitcase,” Russell played guitar and Klaus Voorman added the electric piano parts. A rerecording of the strings on “Name of the Game” was planned using a Phil Spector arrangement; however, this never came to fruition. During the Harrison production phase, Badfinger began to resent Harrison’s use of studio musicians on their album.

While other songs were in various stages of completion, Harrison dropped out of the project during mid 1971 to concentrate on his “Concert for Bangladesh. ” Badfinger were also included as part of this show. To finish the LP, Apple enlisted Todd Rundgren to produce the remainder of the album. Although Harrison is credited as sole producer on the four songs he finished, Rundgren insists that he should have also been given coproduction credits on these cuts as he worked on the final mixes of those four songs as well.

On the eight remaining cuts, Rundgren only used the band as musicians. This included their manager, Bill Collins, who was enlisted to play accordion on “Sweet Tuesday Morning.” Although not a performing member of the band, legally Collins was the fifth member of Badfinger.

”Baby Blue” – Single Mix

When “Baby Blue” was released in the US, Al Steckler, the president of Apple US, felt that song needed to be stronger for airplay on American radio. Stickler remixed the drum tracks adding reverb on snare for the song’s first verse and the bridge. While “Baby Blue” was my favorite song on the album, there was one thing that bothered me about the tune.

There is a Doppler Effect that appears on the guitar part that is especially prominent during the intro. It appears to shift pitch making the song decelerate and then accelerate at about every revolution of the 45. When I bought the single, I was ready to take it back to the store as I thought the record was out of round – with the hole drilled off center.

While this was an unusual occurrence, I had already purchased two other Capitol pressed singles where this was the case. When I began noticing the Doppler Effect on the radio plays of the same single, I deemed it intentional and didn’t take the record back to the store. The album release of “Baby Blue” also presented this anomaly, while no other cuts appeared to be out of round.

My only explanation is that Joey Molland must have been using a Leslie Rotating Speaker Cabinet set to the slowest setting. I have not seen anything to corroborate this hunch, but it seems likely and the Leslie Cabinet would produce the Doppler Effect heard on the song.

Problems on the Horizon

With exception of a very poor review in Rolling Stone, “Straight Up” was praised by music critics everywhere. With these reviews, there was the inevitable comparison to the Beatles that the band had been subjected to since signing to Apple as the Iveys in 1968. In fact, they began hating the comparisons, as it seemed to deny the fact that they were excellent writers and musicians in their own right.

The problems surrounding the recording of “Straight Up” mirrored greater problems that Badfinger was experiencing with management and money. Their American tours were disasters with the band scheduled for gigs that were impossible to make due to a lack additional travel time between cities that resulted in cancelled and late concerts. Their American manager, Stan Polley was taking a lion’s share of the profits and band members were constantly broke while record sales and tour receipts were adequate.

One other contractual arrangement that plagued the band was that songwriters shared their royalties with the other members of Badfinger and this included band manager Bill Collins. The arrangement had the actual song’s composer receiving the initial 50% of the writing royalties; and the remaining 50% was then split among all five members including Bill Collins.

A single author could only receive only as much as 60% of the writing royalties for a song that he had authored 100%. This is significant, as song royalties tend to be a greater source of revenue for musicians. In most circumstances, royalties constitute a greater percentage of a musician’s revenue than record sales, concert receipts, and merchandising – which are generally shared with a number of other concerns.

The band began having personality conflicts as well. Guitarist Pete Ham was the first to leave the group. When Ham quit, he was replaced by Bob Jackson who remained in the band when Pete rejoined. Molland left the band in 1974 and was not replaced. When Pete Ham hanged himself in his garage on April 24, 1975, the band officially disbanded. Ham’s suicide note indicated that manager Stan Polley was source of his despair. His death occurred three days before his 27th birthday and one month before the birth of his only child, Petera.

In 1978, Joey Molland and Tom Evans resurrected the band, and within months Mike Gibbins rejoined as well. Gibbins would leave in 1979 and Molland and Evans held the band together until mounting personality clashes occurred between the two principle members. Molland continued touring as Badfinger. In 1982, Evans and Mike Gibbins began competing with Molland’s Badfinger by also touring under the Badfinger name. Bob Jackson would also join this lineup.

Following a heated phone conversation between Molland and Evans over royalties, Tom Evans followed Pete Ham’s example and hanged himself the next day in his garden on November 19, 1983. No note was left; he was 36.

The next year, Molland, Gibbins, and Jackson joined forces for yet another version of the Badfinger lineup. Badfinger disbanded for good in 1984. Molland is currently the only surviving member of the “No Dice” & “Straight Up” line-up of Badfinger. Drummer Mike Gibbins died in his sleep at the age of 56 on October 4, 2005.

When you listen to “Straight Up,” one would have never known the turmoil that the band was experiencing in and out of the studio. For years, this album was out of print and both original copies and bootleg versions as well as a limited edition remastered CD from 1993 have reportedly fetched high prices from fans and collectors alike.

By 1995, a permanent release of “Straight Up” was issued and included five Emerick produced cuts and the single mix of “Baby Blue.” Unfortunately, I cannot feature the entire LP on this blog as most of it is not available on YouTube. I have most of the Badfinger catalog of recordings, and will arguably state that “Straight Up” is their finest. Get it if you can.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kai WInding/Irma Thomas: Time Is On My Side

Today, we begin a new feature – First Fridays where I explore the hits before they became hits. We will look at the original recordings of songs by other artists and see how these tunes metamorphosed into the songs we know and love.

In 1964, the Rolling Stones had their first US top ten hit with “Time is on my Side”; the tune peaked at number 6. Little do most Americans realize that this was a cover record for the Stones; however, they actually covered the Irma Thomas version and not the original by Kai Winding.

Recorded in 1963, the original version of this song featured the trombone of Kai Winding and backing vocals of Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick, and Dee Dee Warwick. It is an interesting version of the song that only has 11 words – only one of which has more than one syllable and only two of the words are longer than four letters in length. The vocals on Winding’s version only contained: “Time is on my side” and “You’ll come running back to me.”

Irma Thomas Version

Jump to 1964 and the first cover version was released by Louisiana born and bred soul maven Irma Thomas. Realizing that the lyrics as they existed were inadequate, additional content was hastily written on the spot. When released, Irma Thomas’ version was the B-side of “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand),” which was hoped to become an adequate follow-up to her biggest single, “Wish Someone Would Care,” that peaked at #17 earlier in the year. It wasn't.

2X5: The Stones Record it Twice

Before Thomas' single could be flipped to promote the B-side (as this often occurred in those days), the Rolling Stones had released the first of their two recordings of the same song. In fact, Mick and the crew mimicked Thomas’ version that was only released a month earlier. The Stones' original single has an intro featuring the organ of Stones’ sideman and road manager, Ian Stewart. The organ can be heard elsewhere in the tune as well.

While it was part of the hit single, the organ part in the Stones’ original recording almost sounds bizarre when one listens to it in 2010. Stewart's part is reminiscent of a lower budget church organ – say a Lowrey, and it just doesn’t sound quite right. At any moment during the intro, I expect to learn that Mary Henry, the lead character in 1962's low budget thriller “Carnival of Souls,” has actually possessed the keyboard.

Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry: toccata play some organ music soon.

Apparently the Stones were not satisfied with the organ either, and within six months, a newer version of the tune with a lead guitar intro over a less haunting and lower volume organ part was recorded. This version was released on the US album, 12X5. This newer rendition appears on all of the compilation albums to date and the only one likely to be heard on radio. The single mix has slowly faded into oblivion.

Who Writes the Song that Makes the Whole Band Sing?

If you happen to pay attention to record labels, you may have noticed that this particular song has inconsistencies in how it is credited. If you look hard enough, you are likely to find the following combinations for the songwriting credits:
  • Norman Mead
  • Norman Mead and Jimmy Norman
  • Jerry Ragovoy and Jimmy Norman
  • Jerry Ragovoy
But who wrote “Time is on my Side?” The answer is that all of them did. First of all, Norman Mead and Jerry Ragovoy are the same person, as Ragovoy often used the Mead pseudonym for compositional purposes. When the Irma Thomas version was to be recorded, producer H.B. Barnum enlisted songwriter Jimmy Norman to write additional lyrics. Norman's additions are found on Irma Thomas' and both Rolling Stones' versions.

Unfortunately, his name will not appear on any future releases of the tune. Over the years, the song's publishers have removed Jimmy Norman’s name from the song credits and have admitted that the addition of his name was an error. Newer recordings of the song will identify the writer as only Norman Mead or Jerry Ragavoy. Both names have been used.

I hope you've enjoyed this new feature outlining the history of the Rolling Stone's "Time is on my Side.?" Next week on First Fridays, Bob Welch covers himself – with a faster and shorter version his own tune.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kansas: Point of Know Return

TV Thursdays always are a particular challenge for me as I must find a song (usually from a commercial) that is available online and fits my rigid criteria. Not that I have any rigid criteria for inclusion on this site; it just is fitting that I have some rhetoric to trick, er, present to my viewing public that indicates a great deal of scrutiny occurs with my daily choices. Therefore, there is scientific reasoning that explains why a particular song is chosen on any given day. Now with that out of the way, may I interest you in some ocean front property in Arizona?

Today's inspiration came directly from my 13 year old who, when seeing the latest commercial for State Farm Insurance, exclaimed that the guy in the car singing (badly at that) and playing air drums could have been me. The featured song was the title cut from Kansas’ “Point of Know Return” album.

While I am flattered that she would notice the similarities, I am a little put-off that she thinks I sing that badly. I don’t think so, but be that as it may, I can see myself doing this very same thing. Therefore, she has her dear old dad pegged fairly well. I might even be tempted to do this in an effort to embarrass both of my kids in the first place.

Today’s Commercial Inspiration

Fathers (and middle-aged men in general) get a bad rap, especially from their teenage daughters. Somehow, we are stuck in some sort of vortex or another dimension. Our teenagers cannot understand when we might like some of the same things (including music) that they do. This alone has the power to render any particular item as being ceremonially un-cool. While today’s selection is not one either of my girls would listen to on any given day, it does indicate that dear old dad is not quite ready for the geriatric walker circuit either.

Page Two

Kansas is one of those groups that fits into the prog rock sub-genre of rock and roll. From the first time I heard them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974, I admired their sound. They had dual keyboards – reminiscent of Procul Harum, yet the added dimension of Robbie Steinhardt’s violin created a very unique signature for this band that comes from, uh, you guessed it – Kansas.

It took four albums for Kansas to hit the mainstream and “Leftoverture,” their number one selling album, produced the classic single “Carry on Wayward Son,” which is often misidentified by the hoi polloi because the lyrics state “Carry on MY Wayward Son.” This song just missed the top ten by placing eleventh on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The follow-up LP to “Leftoverture” was “Point of Know Return” which featured two singles that charted in the Top 40: the title cut and their biggest single to date, “Dust in the Wind.” If you are going to own only two Kansas LPs – "Leftoverture" and "Point of Know Return" are the two to have. Unfortunately with bands like Kansas, equally good older material sometimes is lost in the shuffle because of the lack of discernible hits.

To the public, it is almost as though an artist did not exist prior to positive chart activity. It reminds me of a scene I witnessed in a record store in the mid to late seventies. As I was perusing the bins for something of worth, I heard a young boy exclaim to his parent, “Mom, did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?” Ah yes, youth is often wasted on the young.

When “Point of Know Return” was released and the title track was making it to radio, my own naiveté questioned the word choice of “Know,” when “No” appeared to be the logical one. The play on words and the deeper meaning of song was entirely lost on me – a 22 year-old college student.

Yes, youth may be wasted on the young; however, I finally began to appreciate the subtlety of the less obvious homophonic choice that is used in this selection. When I did, I felt like Caine on the TV series “Kung Fu,” as I finally snatched the pebble from Master Po’s hand and was able to continue on with my life’s journey. Grasshopper, indeed.

The cover of the LP leads to one’s understanding of how “know return” relates to “no return.” In a sense they are one in the same. When reading reviews of this song some 31 years later, I realize that people are still confused about its meaning. Before we go any further, we need to read the lyrics.

Lyrical Content Reprinted Here for Educational Purposes Only

I heard the men saying something,
The captains’ tell they pay you well.
And they say they need sailing men to
Show the way, and leave today.
Was it you that said, "How long? How long?"

They say the sea turns so dark that
You know it's time you see the sign.
They say the point demons guard is
An ocean grave for all the brave.
Was it you that say, "How long? How long?
How long to the point of know return?"

Your father, he said he needs you.
Your mother, she says she loves you.
Your brothers, they echo your words:
"How far, to the point of know return ?
To the point of know return?"
"Well, how long? How long?"

Today, I found a message floating
In the sea – from you to me.
Who knows that when you could see it
You cried with fear, the point was near.
Was it you that said, "How long, how long
How long to the point of know return?
How long, how long to the point of know return?
Know return – how long? How long?”

Here’s where the album cover brings the meaning into focus. For generations, there was the false notion that once someone sailed past the horizon they sailed over the edge of the earth. Most Europeans incorrectly perceived that anyone who ventured to the vast unknown of the west never returned. Perhaps they didn’t want to return. The fact remains that the knowledge of what really was out there was never verified because of fear. Or in analogous terms, "How do you know that you do not like Brussels sprouts, unless you taste one?"

When one ventures forward and gains knowledge through experience, there is no turning back. The point of “know return” is a point of “no return” to past ideas and experiences. It becomes similar to Kurt Lewin’s change theory. In the process of changing, we are constantly being challenged by our previously held perspectives and beliefs. Sometimes these challenges come from our friends and family who attempt to influence our path. These obstacles create great discomfort, as cognitive dissonance often accompanies change. Eventually, our mental anguish subsides as we cross that threshold of acceptance and sail over the imaginary edge of the earth.

Kansas places this perspective in form of an ocean voyage. Think of what the men aboard the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria during Columbus’ first journey to the Americas must have thought. These crew members had lived with the understanding that the world was flat, that there were great sea monsters roaming the Atlantic, and that by sailing too far west would constitute certain death. It is highly probable that family attempted to persuade these mariners to remain safe at home.

It really required a paradigm shift for these men to make this initial voyage. Until they were able to set foot upon dry land, the fears continued. That distant land was the point of know return. Old myths were shattered and new perspectives created. They could not return to their previous viewpoint as they crossed the point of know/no return.

So deep a commentary inspired by a commercial message that wasn’t. Have a pleasant Thursday as you venture towards new horizons to the “Point of Know Return.” One word of advice though, watch out for the ever present sea monsters.