Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's A Beautiful Day: White Bird

They were a band that didn’t own their name – never received royalties from their recordings – and had no say in the reissuing of their classic albums from the late 60s and early 70s. The name of the band was “It’s A Beautiful Day,” and the name was inspired by a young girl who was describing the day’s weather. When manager Matthew Katz heard it, he thought it sounded like a great name for a band. While their best known song only charted at 118, “White Bird” became an underground classic.

This band led by David LaFlamme would later come under Matthew Katz’s fold. He christened them “It’s A Beautiful Day” and they joined the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape in his stable of artists. Unknown to “It’s A Beautiful Day,” the other two bands were experiencing problems with Katz’s management style and were attempting to get out from under his control. All three were finding it difficult in herding Katz; however, Jefferson Airplane was successful in maneuvering out of their contract with minimum damage. Unfortunately, Moby Grape and It’s A Beautiful Day were not. In the litigation that would follow, Katz landed on his feet.

During the period of the strained relationship, the band began recording their first of six albums for Columbia – one being a live album and the other a compilation. “It’s A Beautiful Day,” now under the management of Bill Graham (of Fillmore West/East fame), began setting their own direction; however, Katz had trademarked the name and sued. The outcome was in Katz's favor and the band was prohibited from using the name. Soon the Columbia albums quickly went out of print and Katz, being the owner of the band per se gained control of their musical catalog.

It’s A Beautiful Day – Live 1971 at the last Fillmore show

During this period, band leader David LaFlamme (on violin) and his wife Linda (keyboards) divorced and the band went through numerous personnel changes until they could perform no longer under the moniker they had used for years. In 1977, David LaFlamme rerecorded “White Bird” on his first solo album under the same name. I bought a copy of the cassette of this LP in the late 70s and enjoyed it thoroughly; however, it is hard to top the original recording.

David LaFlamme Solo Version from 1977

“White Bird” was written by David and Linda LaFlamme when the band was sent by Katz to perform in Seattle. Feeling that they were caged in the small house that Katz rented for the band, their feeling of being caged at the time inspired today’s feature song. The original debut album was eventually re-released by Katz on his own San Francisco Sound label.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Letha Allen: Down In Kentucky

The other day, my brother Chuck sent me this link and I really liked both the song and its execution. I tried finding something out about both the artist and the song; however, I was not too successful. Since a pretty extensive Google search of the title and the lyrics provided absolutely nothing, I am beginning to think that this traditional sounding song is an original by Letha Allen.

With obviously having some tie to the American south, Letha Allen makes her home in Stockbridge, Michigan - which is located between Lansing and Detroit. The unusual instrument she is playing here is a Roimeister Cigar Box 4-string Guitar. It is tuned (C G c g). It sounds great for a little box with a tin pan resonator.

One of things I would like to do one of these days is to build a cigar box guitar. I have the perfect wooden cigar box that I’ve had since I was a kid. I’ve had it so long, I’m not sure of its origin, but I believe my grandmother gave it to me and it was one of my grandfather’s. I imagine that it is from about 1910. One of these days, you may see me strumming my own creation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Crosby, Stills, & Nash: Dear Mr. Fantasy

Every Monday, I feature a cover tune of someone else’s hit. Back on January 30, I featured Traffic’s “Mr. Fantasy” album and in the process of researching that piece, I found this recording from Crosby, Stills, and Nash with their version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

Stephen Stills sings the lead and plays lead guitar. I don’t have the liner notes so I am not sure who is on organ – it could be Stills, Nash, Joe Vitale, Mike Finnegan, or Paul Harris. They are all credited to the album. Graham Nash fills in on the harmony vocals while David Crosby is missing in action. Stills also adds his own verse in the process of this recording.

The author with Graham Nash in 1982

This song was recorded in 1980, however, it remained unreleased until 1991 when it appeared on two compilation CDs:  “CSN” (the boxed set) and “Carry On.” It is quite a bit heavier than Traffic’s original recording from 1967 which is below. While I appreciate this rendition, it would be hard for anyone to improve on Traffic’s original.

Traffic’s Original

Live Version by Stevie Winwood from 2003

Sunday, March 28, 2010

John Fahey: In Christ There Is No East Or West

Although a name not generally known by the majority of Americans, John Fahey (AKA Blind Joe Death) was a guitar instrumentalist from Takoma Park, Maryland and founder of Takoma Records. John recorded his first album in 1959 as a series of 78s that he gave away, sneaked into used record bins at Goodwill, and placed into the blues section of record stores. Although he personally received no money from the sales at Goodwill and the record stores, he did this in an effort to get his name out among the public.

After completing his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion at American University, he traveled west and studied philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Disillusioned with the program, he later transferred to UCLA where he finished a Master’s degree in folklore. His thesis on American blues legend Charley Patton was later published.

During his time in Los Angeles, he began re-recording his 1959 album and in 1967, he re-released “Volume 1: Blind Joe Death” which included a mixture of the 1959 originals and 1964 re-recordings of his debut album. Although never to reach popular acclaim, Rolling Stone placed him at #35 on the list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Fahey died in 2001 of complications from a sextuple bypass operation. This occurred six days before what would have been his 62nd birthday.

His instrumental of the Episcopal hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West,” uses the American arrangement that was adapted from an African American spiritual by Harry Thacker Burleigh. Burleigh was one of the founding members of ASCAP and was elected to its board of directors in 1941. The English version of the song utilized “St. Peter” – a 1836 tune composted by Alexander Reinagle. William Dunkerley penned the lyrics in 1908. As noted in the video, Fahey plays this song in standard tuning.

In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In him shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find,
his service is the golden cord
close-binding all mankind.

Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate'er your race may be!
Who serves my Father as a son
is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
in him meet South and North,
all Christly souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bad Company: Bad Company

I was talking to my brother last night and somehow we got talking about Bad Company’s debut album and how great a recording it was. Released in 1974, it was their only number one album in the US and was their best selling LP. The “Bad Company” album gained multi-platinum status with over five million units sold. It was one of those LPs that I didn’t get when it came out, but I got it on cassette in 1985 and remember listening to it over and over in my car as I drove over an hour to play with the band I was a member at the time.

Named after the movie of the same name, Bad Company joined two members of Free (vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke) with guitarist Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople, and former King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. The chemistry was magical. The debut album also featured King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins and background vocalists Sue & Sunny from The Brotherhood of Man.

The album came out during the summer of 1974 and I remember it getting heavy airplay on Pittsburgh’s top 40 outlets as well as the three AOR stations at the time. The album produced three singles: “Can’t Get Enough” that charted at 5; “Movin’ On” that peaked at 19; and my favorite, “Bad Company,” which failed to chart.

Can’t Get Enough

Can’t Get Enough (live)

Movin’ On

Bad Company

The Entire LP in Order

Friday, March 26, 2010

Badfinger: Without You

It was a double number one record that will forever be linked to greed and two suicides. It was Badfinger’s biggest song, yet most individuals have never heard this recording that closed out side one on their second (actually third counting the Ivey’s LP) album “No Dice.” The song was written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans and the tune resulted from an intentional conglomeration of two distinct compositions.

The bulk of the information for this post comes from Dan Matovina's "Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger."  Matovina's published account is not universally accepted as being accurate, as some posts below will indicate.  For the other side of the story, see the comments after this post.  As with every story, there are multiple sides that often conflict in details with each other.

From Matovina's perspective --

The story is that Pete Ham had written a new song but was not satisfied with the chorus. Tom Evans was writing a new song and while liking his own chorus was dissatisfied with the verses. Ham and Evans combined their efforts into one tune that incorporated the best parts of the individual songs.

This marriage of melodies produced the biggest royalty generating composition in the band’s history as two covers of the song were number one hits for Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey. ASCAP estimates that 180 artists have covered this song.

Not only was it their biggest composition, the song inspired one of the band’s biggest problems and that was the sharing of royalties among all members. It also was strangely prophetic as both writers ended up committing suicide by hanging – they couldn’t live due to financial issues that ultimately surrounded this and other recordings.

Pete Ham died in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983. Ham killed himself over problems regarding their financial manager, Stan Polley. This was evident in his suicide note; Ham closed out the tome by stating, “PS Stan Polley is a souless bastard. I will take him with me.”

Faux Live Version with Pete Ham singing lead

The greed associated with Badfinger began with Nilsson's recording of "Without You." Nilsson's early success with the song was noticed by guitarist Joey Molland who suggested a royalty arrangement that would benefit all of Badfinger including Bill Collins. Although the arrangement would not go into effect until after Pete’s death, it may have ultimately led to Tom Evans' demise.

In the early 1980s, guitarist Molland, drummer Mike Gibbins, and manager Bill Collins began pressuring Evans to concede to a loosely agreed upon distribution of royalties. While all of the band agreed upon the arrangement prior to Pete Ham's death, it never was put into effect.

Molland and the others were now looking at cashing in on the success of “Without You” and the Pete Ham composed hit singles. After Evans and Molland had a heated telephone conversation, Tom hanged himself in his garden the following mornign.

Rare Recording with Tom Evans Singing Lead

Following Evans' death, Molland, Gibbins, and Collins began pressing the heirs of Pete Ham and Tom Evans about the song royalty arrangement. The three surviving members claimed that the arrangement was to be 25% for a song’s writer and the remaining 75% was to be split five ways among all four members of Badfinger and Bill Collins who legally was a full, but not performing, member of the band.

The Ham and Evans heirs conceded that a loose verbal agreement did exist; however, they contested the percentage amounts. Under the Molland, Gibbins, and Collins arrangement, a single songwriter would only have 40% of a song he had written as a single author. For compositions like “Without You,” Ham and Evans each would receive only 27.5%.

Harry Nilsson’s beautiful demo recording

The heirs of both writers of “Without You” claimed that the royalties were to be divided with the song composers receiving the lion’s share at 50% and the remaining 50% was to be divided five ways. This arrangement gave single authors a total of 60% share of the royalties and in the case of “Without You,” the estates of Ham and Evans would each receive 35% of the songwriting royalties. Other royalty issues concerning publishing royalties and royalties for sales from LPs on the Apple Record label also arose during this period.

Harry Nilsson’s Hit from Nilsson Schmilsson

After much litigation, the courts upheld the 50% arrangement with the remaining 50% to be divided among all five members. While Ham's and Evans' estates were the legal victors, the arrangement meant that the larger royalty payments were to be divided across all members rather than the official songwriters.

To add insult to injury, both estates were required to pay Molland, Gibbins, and Collins back royalties from where both writers were paid each 50% on the performance royalties of “Without You” and other compositions. Pete Ham's estate took the larger hit. Although "Without You" remains credited to Pete Ham and Tom Evans, ASCAP's royalties schedules includes the names of all five, who were now receiving royalty payments, as coauthors.

Mariah Carey’s #1 Version

Due to Mariah Carey’s success in 1994, ASCAP had planned to honor the songwriters of “Without You,” as it had became one of the top fifty songs that was played in the previous year. Carey’s version that was released a few days after Harry Nilsson death from cancer had outsold Nilsson’s version which was the “Song of the Year” in 1972.

Because of the five Badfinger members were being honored rather than the actual composers, Pete Ham’s daughter Petera opted not to travel to the US to accept her father’s award. Marianne and Stephen Evans, Tom’s widow and son, both attended but found out at the last moment that Molland, Gibbins, and Collins were attending and intended to accept their awards for the song. Wanting this corrected, Marianne Evans contacted ASCAP, however, the performing rights society upheld that their records had all five as coauthors and all five would be honored.

Joey Molland Singing Lead

During the ceremony Molland stole the show by holding up his award for which he had been collecting royalties, yet had not participated in the composition process. It gave the appearance that Molland was the primary author. This further drove a wedge between former bandmates and their families.

Obviously, none could live without the royalties of a song that was created only by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Currently, Molland is the only living member of the five-some. Collins died in 2002 and Gibbins in 2005. Their estates, as well as those of Ham and Evans, continue to receive royalties from "Without You" and will do for some time.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mungo Jerry: In The Summertime

It’s TV Thursday, and today’s song has appeared in quite a few commercials and too many to number at that. Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” topped the charts in 26 countries including their native Britain as well as in Canada. In the US, the song peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1970. Today’s featured rendition is the stereo LP version.

Music Video in Mono

Mungo Jerry were one hit wonders in the US, but not elsewhere. In the UK, the band had six top 20 hits. This may be related to the skiffle craze that hit the country 15 years earlier. While a few skifflesque recordings were popular in the US, this musical style, akin to Mungo Jerry’s later jug band sound, was an immense hit in the British Isles during the 1950s.

Mr. Mungo Jerry - Ray Dorset (where does the hair end & the sideburns begin?)

So popular was this recording and the band, Melody Maker named Mungo Jerry the “Best New Band” in 1970. Ray Dorset, who wrote and sang “In the Summertime,” has been the band’s only constant member. Dorset was thrice awarded the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting and compositional skills.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Byrds: Mr. Spaceman

Everyone should remember his or her first . . . first 45 rpm record that is. The first record that I purchased with my own money occurred within months of my 11th birthday and was a little ditty by the Byrds called “Mr. Spaceman.” It was September 1966 and I had been staying with my oldest brother in Kentucky when my mother and stepfather were on their honeymoon. Those two weeks were fantastic and I remember it like yesterday.

During that stay, I visited a radio station for the first time up on Radio Hill outside of Grayson, KY when I accompanied my two brothers and their friends to WGOH Radio. Little did I know that I would spend the greater portion of my adult life employed in radio. I also tasted two concoctions that were not available in Pittsburgh at the time and of which I had never heard of before: Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper.

It was also probably the first time that I started paying attention to bands and music. Chuck had just purchased the Byrds’ album, “Fifth Dimension,” and “Mr. Spaceman” was the one song from that LP that caught this ten-year old’s ear.

When returning to Pittsburgh, I headed to Clabers in the Great Valley Shopping Center – a store that had everything – including 45 rpm records. I plopped down my 67 cents and bought this the latest single by The Byrds.

Roger McGuinn, who was known by his first name of Jim in those days, wrote and sang lead on this song. McGuinn is affectionately known as “Mr. Twelve String Rickenbacker Guitar,” as he probably is the best known artist who plays this instrument that was key to the sound of The Byrds. The single’s flip, “What's Happening?!?!,” was penned and sung by McGuinn’s bandmate David Crosby. Crosby would go onto to greater fame in the various incarnations of Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

The Byrds on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: October 1967

“Mr. Spaceman” was officially released by Columbia Records as a single on September 6, 1966 and has been touted by some as the first Country-Rock recording. The record peaked at #36 on the Hot 100 that fall. It’s not the biggest single by the band, and I would venture to say most casual fans of The Byrds wouldn’t remember it – but I can still remember most of the lyrics nearly 44 years later.

Roger McGuinn backed by Wilco

Somehow, I am tempted to make a joke about Roger Wilco - Over and Out, but I won't.

The “B” Side: What’s Happening?!?!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cantiga: Como Poden

I stumbled on this last night and found it particularly enchanting. The group is called Cantiga and the song is a 13th century Portuguese/Galician folk tune, “Como Poden.” Cantiga blends the sounds of the Iberian Peninsula, the European Renaissance, Latin America, and improvisation. It is very nice change for a Traditional Tuesday.

Cantiga features Bob Bielefeld on flute, Martha Gay on folk harp, Conrado “Charry” Garcia on charango, Michelle Levy on violin, and Max Dyer on ‘cello. The band typically plays the Renaissance fair circuit and they are frequent performers at the Texas Renaissance Festival. Enjoy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Fray: Fixing A Hole

In June 2007, several bands recorded songs from the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album using the same 4 track analog tape deck that the Beatles used on the original. Videos of these recordings were aired on BBC 2 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original album. Our cover artist is Denver based The Fray doing a “smashing” job on “Fixing a Hole.”

The Beatles Original

Unlike previous recordings where the lead vocal was recorded separate from the backing track, Paul McCartney’s lead vocal was recorded simultaneously with the rhythm track. On the original, producer George Martin played the harpsichord. McCartney admitted later that the song was originally inspired by seeing a road crew fix a pothole and was finished while he was in a psychedelic haze.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maddy Prior: Dives And Lazarus

Today’s Spiritual Sunday song was one that I waffled on whether using it for Sunday feature or for Traditional Tuesday. Well, Sunday won out and this old English folk tune is performed by Maddy Prior, the former lead singer of Steeleye Span. “Dives and Lazarus” is based on the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” in Luke 16.

I love this minimalist rendition featuring Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar and Giles Lewin on the oud. The chordal structure in the middle changes nicely. Since I haven’t checked it out, I’m not sure if Kirkpatrick is using an alternate guitar tuning or not on this version in Am. Whatever tuning, his playing really makes the song.

Although the name Dives is not in the Bible, it came from the Latin word for wealthy or rich man. It is the word used in the Latin Vulgate version of the bible and became the de facto name of the songs antagonist and hence was also used in this song.

According to The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles the license for this ballad was issued in 1557 and was coauthored by Master John Wallye and Mistress Toye. It apparently gained popularity quickly as it is mentioned by John Fletcher in his 1610 play “Monsieur Thomas.” There are several versions of this song on both sides of the Atlantic.

Niles, who traveled about rural America learning traditional music, first heard “Dives and Lazarus” in 1934. He learned it from an elderly retired school teacher living in Harlan, KY, Grandmother Lottie Higgins. Higgins, who was of the Sacred Harp Shaped Note singing school of religious music, provided a rendition of the song that was not unlike this style. The Sacred Harp style was developed in the mid 19th century in the rural South. It is said that Sacred Harp singing is quite similar to English country parish singing from the 18th century. It all comes full circle.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heart: Dreamboat Annie

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album, but it was sometime during the summer of 1976 when the album was released and it may have been before the first single “Crazy on You” was hitting the charts.

That summer, I was living in Logan County, West Virginia; however, I made frequent trips to the Pittsburgh area. After hearing the album at my favorite record store, Heads Together in the Underground Mall in Squirrel Hill, I bought it. For a 20 year-old, I was enamored by these two beautiful sisters that looked different as night and day.

Typically, I don’t feature live tracks that support a studio album, but these live videos from 1977 give a sense of one of their live shows. I’ve seen Heart three times. I saw them during the summer of 1977 at the Huntington, WV Civic Center and later in 1984 and 1985 at the Charleston, WV Civic Center. They are high energy and I especially liked seeing them during their first US tour. The three live videos represent the three (four) charting singles from the LP.

Crazy on You

Five single releases were issued by Mushroom Records in support of the album. “Crazy on You” was released twice – both times with “Dreamboat Annie” as the flip side. The initial release of this single in 1976 charted at #35 in the US. In 1977, Mushroom Records decided to re-release “Crazy on You” to compete with Heart's “Little Queen” LP on Portrait Records. The second release of the single charted at #62 in early 1978.

The 1977 single was issued under the same release number as the 1976 single. The “Crazy on You” 45 did not include Nancy Wilson’s acoustic guitar intro as she plays in the live track below on an Adamas guitar. The live version is slightly different than the recording of the song. The driving rhythm guitar in the song proper was inspired by Justin Hayward’s guitar on the Moody Blues’ “Question.”


The author and Ann Wilson of Heart - 1984

Magic Man

The second single, “Magic Man” peaked in the top 10 at #9 and proved that they were able to attract both AOR (Album Oriented Rock) and CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio – I.e., Top 40) listeners.

Dreamboat Annie (the single)

The title cut was the third single. “Dreamboat Annie,” which was one of the three versions of the album only was able to chart at 42. The single version is unlike the three versions from the album because it was created by taking the song from side 1, cut 5 and splice editing a guitar intro onto the beginning of “Dreamboat Annie.” It’s softer delivery was popular with Adult Contemporary (AC) listeners and was the first AC hit for Heart at #17. The guitar intro is in this live version and the keyboards mimic the banjo which is found on the LP version.

(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song

The final single (not counting the re-release of “Crazy on You”) from “Dreamboat Annie” has a distinctive country flavor. “(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song” failed to chart on any of the US charts. It is a nice tune and worthy of inclusion here.

The Entire LP in Order

Friday, March 19, 2010

Them: Gloria

Friday Firsts is the theme and today takes us back to a song that originally wasn’t the “A” side of the single and wasn’t the “hit” version either, although I remember the original being played more than the later cover hit version by the Shadows of Knight. The original rendition features the vocals of Van Morrison and his group Them. They are (or is it “Them is”) the final Irish artist we are featuring in our week long celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. This is an interesting lip synced video of their semi hit “Gloria.” I am not sure what the whole subliminal message of the donkey smiling in this video means – if you know, let me.

When Them recorded this tune along with six others for British Decca, A&R (that’s artist and repertoire) man Dick Rowe insisted on using session musicians for rhythm guitar, keyboards, and drums. Some suggest that the members of the band also played on the recording which would have constituted the first time double drummers were used in rock and roll. The rhythm guitarist was Jimmy Page who was making quite a good living at doing session dates. He gave this up to join the Yardbirds in 1965.

The single was released in November 1964 with “Gloria” as the “B” side to the Big Joe Williams song, “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The single was released on one of British Decca’s American arm, London Records’ subsidiary – Parrot Records. Parrot, for those of you that remember the 60s without flashbacks, may recall some other artists that recorded for this label including Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink, Frijid Pink, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett to name a few.

Them stereo album version

The first go around the song charted at 93 in early 1965 as disc jockeys began flipping the single and playing the “B” side instead of the “A” side. Later in 1966, Parrot rereleased the single and officially made “Gloria” the “A” side. Controversy over the line “She comes to my room” relegated the song being banned at numerous American radio stations and it peaked on the US charts at 71.

The Shadows of Knight cover and hit

The song, a favorite among garage bands, was recorded by the Shadows of Knight who changed the line to “She calls out my name” and captured the lead spot on the American charts. Released on the ATCO distributed Dunwich label, Shadows of Knight took “Gloria” to the top ten spot. Although I prefer the original, the SOK version is rather good as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

U2: Vertigo

It’s like the old Certs commercial – “it’s two, two mints in one.” Today’s feature, is two, two treats in one. First, it is TV Thursday with a song that has an affinity with the airwaves; and second, its day four of our Irish artist week. The Irish artist is U2 and the song is “Vertigo” which was used by Apple to push their ever popular I-Pod. One, two, three, fourteen – hola.

This song evolved from being a song named “Full Metal Jacket” to “Native Son” and finally the lyrics were rewritten to become “Vertigo.” The song was a number 1 record in Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Spain, the UK, and on the US Hot Modern Rock Chart. It peaked at number 2 in Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. It hit the Top 10 in five other countries and charted at #3 on the US Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and #8 on the US Hot Dance Club Play charts. On the primary US singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100, it only reached 31. I love the guitar work by The Edge on this one. 

Apple’s I-Pod/U2 Cross Promotion

Probably helping the chart action was the edit used by Apple to cross promote the I-Pod and U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” CD. Now all Apple needs to do is find a catchy tune by a top artist to promote the I-Pad.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thin Lizzy: The Boys Are Back In Town

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. This is the day when everyone’s Irish, even if you haven’t a drop of Irish blood. As we continue with our theme of Irish musicians, one of the more popular bands to come from Dublin was Thin Lizzy. The first song and album to chart outside of Ireland was the single, “The Boys are Back in Town” from the album “Jailbreak.”

This is one of those tunes that I remember hearing it for the first time. During the summer of 1976, I had the pleasure of living in Logan, West Virginia with my older brother John. Coming home one afternoon from the local music store where I was working, I heard this tune as I was coming up Peach Creek Road. In was on the now defunct WLOG and at first I thought it was Kiss, but I was wrong. I had never heard of Thin Lizzy before this and I was enthralled by the dual guitar leads and answer back whispers.

Thin Lizzy was an unusual name and it was coined from the name of a comic book robot named Tin Lizzy. The “H” was added as a joke because many Irish dropped the “h” in “th” when speaking. Remember yesterday, Mick Maloney sang, “You’ll tink you’re home in Ireland.” Lead by the late Phil Lynott, the band’s bassist, it is said that Thin Lizzy shone in concert settings. I never had the opportunity to see them live.

Live (more or less) Version for TV

A few years ago, Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham explained to Guitar World how this song evolved from a bass progression to the hit song that we know and love. He also shows how to play the twin guitar riffs. Parts one and two of this interview are found at

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mick Maloney: Typical Tipperary

Mick Maloney, our next Irish artist this St. Patrick's Day week, has our Traditional Tuesday selection “Typical Tipperary.” While the song extols the virtues of the Irish in America and compares the US to geographical locations in the Emerald Isle, it was not written by an Irish songwriter. Two Jewish tune smiths from Tin Pan Alley, Abner Silver and Alex Gerber, composed this very Irish sounding song.

I had the opportunity to hear Mick back on St. Patrick’s Day in 1988 when he performed at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, WV. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance, but a friend of mine who also attended that show hated his brand of Irish of music because he was a fan of the Clancy Brothers style and was disappointed in Mick's acoustic style. Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

Mick, who is 100% Irish, makes his home now in Philadelphia. He also has an earned doctorate (PhD) in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. Notice his pronunciation of the word “think” as he sings the line “you’ll 'tink' that you are home in Ireland.” This will make sense with tomorrow’s post.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rory Gallagher: Blue Moon Of Kentucky

With St. Patrick’s Day coming this Wednesday, I’d thought I’d feature an entire week of Irish musicians. With Monday’s feature always being a cover tune, I began looking for covers that the late great Rory Gallagher had performed. While searching, I was amazed at the sheer number of good quality live recordings that exist for Rory, who happens to be one of my favorite guitarists at all time. After listening to several of his cover recordings, I decided on this live rendition of the Bill Monroe classic: “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Rory’s rendition comes from the 2003 compilation CD, “Wheels Within Wheels” and features Rory on Guitar, Bela Fleck on banjo, and Mark Feltham on harmonica.

Bill Monroe’s Original from 1947

The original was released by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass boys in 1947 and features band members Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs before they left Monroe to start the Foggy Mountain Boys. Monroe’s original is a medium tempo waltz (3/4 time) and is the official bluegrass song of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Elvis’ 1954 Cover

The most famous cover of this song was recorded in 1954 by Elvis Presley and was the flip side of the single “That’s All Right Mama.” Bassist Bill Black suggested that Elvis record the song; however, it is far from the original. Elvis, Bill Black, and guitarist Scotty Moore transformed the song from a waltz to up-tempo rocker in common (4/4) time. Throughout the south where the single had its best exposure, DJs often flipped the record and played “Blue Moon of Kentucky” over the A side.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Patti Loveless/Ricky Skaggs: Daniel Prayed

Today’s Spiritual Sunday song is a duet by two eastern Kentuckians, Patti Loveless from Pike County and Ricky Skaggs from Lawrence County, singing a bluegrass gospel tune made famous originally by the Stanley Brothers. The arrangement in this live version of “Daniel Prayed” is the same that is found on Patti Loveless’ “Mountain Soul” album.

I learned this first from my friend and colleague, Everett Lilly, Jr. who did a version with his group the Songcatchers. I had a chance to join them several years ago singing harmony and playing harmonica at a mountain worship service. After learning this song, I bought the album and a group of us did this in church one Sunday night in 2006. I played the mandolin; however, those Ricky Skaggs chops are pretty difficult. It is great little song and the Loveless/Skaggs arrangement is wonderful.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Horslips: The Book Of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony

I was introduced to the music of Horslips in late 1978 when, Joyce Burley McCracken, a fellow grad student at Marshall University gave me several albums. Knowing that I was a fan of all kinds of music, Joyce felt these albums needed a new home as she wasn’t listening to them. She had gotten them from her brother who worked at a WEA (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic) distribution center.

One of the LPs was Horslips’ debut album from 1972: “Happy to Meet - Sorry to Part” on ATCO. The album was designed like a concertina and was shaped as an octagon. It was one of my favorites of the five or six LPs that Joyce had given me.

The feature album today, Horslips’ sixth LP “The Book of Invasions,” did not catch my ear until three years after its 1976 release. In 1979, West Virginia Public Radio signed on their third station in the system – Huntington’s WHPW (now WVWV). Dave Alley was the afternoon jock and he always had a very interesting show comparing bands with divergent influences.

For example, one day Dave compared the 12 string Rickenbacker sounds of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Roger McGuinn’s music with the Byrds. On the day he featured “The Book of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony” LP, he was comparing the music of Horslips with that of Jethro Tull.

Within days, I owned a copy of the album and my favorite cut was “Trouble with a Capital T,” our signature song of today’s feature album. The song was the first single off the album and on the album “March into Trouble,” the opening cut, led into this tune.

March into Trouble / Trouble with A Capital T

“The Book of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony” is a concept album that is based on the 12th century volume that chronicles the history of Ireland with the various conquests the Emerald Isle. While modern scholars consider the book, named Lebor Gabála Érenn in Gaelic, as a mixture of actual events, legends, mythology, and Christian interpretation. The story begins with a pagan race called the Tuatha De Danann who was supposedly the original inhabitants of Ireland. Once defeated, the Tuatha vanished completely. Although they were schooled in all matter of knowledge, much like the mythical Atlantians, the only remnant of the Tuatha Da Dannan is what is written in “The Book of Invasions.”

It is their absolute best album – the “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Sergeant Pepper’s” of Horslips.

The Power and the Glory / The Rocks Remain

Sideways to the Sun / Drive the Cold Winter Away

Sword of Light

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Art Reynolds Singers: Jesus Is Just Alright

Today’s Friday First feature dips into several versions of a song that became the first hit record for the Doobie Brothers in 1972. While it wasn’t a colossal hit for the band peaking at #35, it is a song that is inextricably linked to their music. The Doobie Brothers, however, didn’t do it first.

My interest in and research of this matter was spurred on by an email that I received from my friend and former student, Phil Lewis. Last week Phil asked, “Okay big guy - what is the REAL meaning of this song? The ‘Doobie Brothers’ don't seem to be the Jesus type but the song lyrics are keenly interesting. It really seems to be homage to Jesus but I know there was a lot of confusion and such going on back then so I was curious to see what you thought about this enigma.”

I am sure I thought about this, but never considered finding an answer. When you think about it, the Doobie Brothers are not a likely candidate for singing a song about Jesus. First, none to my knowledge are professed Christians – not that any the original band members weren’t, it just isn’t something of which the average person is aware. Second, their name “Doobie” Brothers – with “Doobie” as a nickname for a marijuana joint is certainly not in the “Jesus” vein. Third, it appeared on their second album “Toulouse Street” in which the gatefold of the album contained a photo of band posed as if they were in a brothel. Sort of a mixed message, hmm. Maybe, Phil was onto something here.

The Art Reynolds Singers – Sing it First

I promised my friend that I would have an answer, but I did know that the Byrds recorded it before the Doobies for their album, “Ballad of Easy Rider.” I didn’t know about its history and was unaware of the prototype version of the song until last weekend. Written by Arthur Reid Reynolds, the original was recorded by his group, the Art Reynolds Singers in 1966. It was written and recorded as a pure gospel song with Reynolds attempting to use the vernacular of the day when “alright” meant “spectacular” – hence, “Jesus is Just Alright.”

The Byrds Take off with It

Three years later, the song was a part of the Byrds’ repertoire as Gene Parsons, who had been present at the original Art Reynolds Singers’ session, brought it to the band. They used it as part of their live shows for some time before recording it for their 1969 LP “Ballad of Easy Rider.” The song was released as a single; however, it never charted above #97. Although The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn is an avowed Christian, the recording of this song occurred prior to his conversion. While YouTube does not have a copy of the studio version, here’s a live recording of “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Byrds.

The Byrds Do It; D.B.s Do it

Influenced by the Byrds’ version, the Doobie Brothers’ version is just a heavier adaptation of the Byrds’ arrangement with one notable exception – the bridge. In the middle of the song, it slows and they add: “Jesus, He’s my friend; Jesus, He’s my friend; He took me by the hand, far from this land; Jesus, He’s my fried.” The interlude really adds to the song. So I guess Phil, you now have your answer. Like with the Byrds, a studio version is not available on YouTube – although the accompanying live version may have been lip synched to their recording.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bill Withers: Lean On Me

It’s TV Thursday and today’s song comes from the latest Brawny commercial that features the song, “Lean on Me.” Unfortunately, Bill Withers’ version is not being used for this particular ad. In my opinion, the remake doesn’t hold a candle to Bill’s original. Here’s a live version of his number one hit from 1972.

In addition to Bill’s playing a grand piano, there is another keyboardist playing a Wurlitzer Electric Piano – the same keyboard arrangement of two pianos is also found on the studio recording.

Withers was born in the coal mining camp of Slab Fork, WV, which is about 15 miles from Beckley, WV where I live. Bill’s formative years were spent in Beckley.

Studio Version

I had the opportunity to sit next to Mr. Withers during the graduation ceremony at Mountain State University when he received his honorary doctorate in 2002. I found him to be a very pleasant man who was full of wisdom.

May 2002 Mountain State University Commencement
Speaker of the House Bob Kiss, MSU President - Dr. Charles H. Polk, the author, Bill Withers

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Talk Box Guitar Effect

Peter Frampton’s 1976 LP “Frampton Comes Alive” gave the first wide spread rock n’ roll exposure to the Talk Box - an invention that had its roots in 1930s technology. Two of Frampton’s three singles, “Show me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like I Do?,” featured the talk box.

The first time I remember hearing a talk box was with Joe Walsh’s 1973 recording of “Rocky Mountain Way” from the “Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get” album. Having not seen what Walsh was doing to achieve this sound, I really didn’t know how he accomplished the strange "Bup-bo" sounds toward the cut's end until I saw what Frampton was using in 1976.

After Walsh, my next exposure was a Pete Drake single that I purchased at a flea market in 1974 – it featured the 1964 single recording of “Forever” backed with “I’m Just a Guitar and Everybody is Picking on Me.” The artist was billed on the label as “Pete Drake and his Talking Steel Guitar.” “Talking Steel Guitar,” how could I not buy this record?

Today’s feature picks up where Drake left off with his guitar humor and features the Talk Box designed by Bob Heil. Stillwater’s 1978 single “Mindbender” is about a fictitious talking guitar. The protagonist croons, “My daddy was a Gibson; my momma was Fender; that’s why they call me ‘Mindbender.’ ‘Mindbender’ – that’s my name. ”

History of the Talk Box

Alvino Rey’s Throat Microphone

As stated earlier, the idea for a talk box type of effect had its roots in the 1930s. The first prototype was used by steel guitarist Alvino Rey. His device was a military issue throat microphone that was used as an output of his amplified his steel guitar. Unlike Drake, Walsh, and Frampton, Rey didn’t manipulate his own mouth to provide the talking sounds. This was done offstage by using his wife, Luise King Rey, singing through the throat microphone that was used as an output device with her husband's steel guitar signal. I have a few of Rey's 78s that I got over three decades ago, but sadly do not have 78 player any longer.

In the accompanying video of “St. Louis Blues,” Rey’s orchestra is joined by the “talking guitar” puppet “Stringy.” The gimmick was to have the sound of Luise Rey’s vocal processed with Alvino Rey’s steel guitar appear as though “Stringy” was singing. While Rey invented his device in 1939, this video is from much later in his career.

I’m not 100 percent sure, but I believe Rey is playing a six-string pedal steel guitar. It has the same design as a Multi-Kord – one of the first pedal steels on the market. I purchased a Multi-Kord steel from a fellow college student, Scott Bryant, back in 1978 for $75.00. It is a horrible little instrument because there is the tendency for the cables to stretch causing the pitch to change unevenly when the pedals are depressed. Later pedal steels used rods to correct this issue. Rey also uses the steel's tone controls to achieve certain effects. My Multi-Chord has a tone button that allowed for very quick wah-wah type by rolling off the bass when the push-button switch is depressed.

The Sonovox Output Device

Simultaneously in 1939, Gilbert Hunger Wright developed a device that his father, novelist Harold Bell Wright, called the "Sonovox." The younger Wright noticed one day that when he scratched his Adam’s apple he could make unique sounds by mouthing the words. He took two small speakers that are not much different from modern headphones, input sound to the speakers, and placed on these on an individual’s throat. The resulting sound would emanate from the persons mouth when he formed the words and gave the appearance that the instruments were singing.

In the 1940 film, “You’ll Find Out,” Harry Babbitt demonstrates the Sonovox with Kay Kyser’s band. I’m not sure how they did this live, as the instruments do not appear to be miked. It is possible that it was prerecorded or there were other instrumentalists backstage that were miked and played on cue. He is not miked either until he sings with Kay. Is it live or or is Bell Labs? With that said, most recordings of that era were done with a single mike and that may be what is happening here. The single mic records were marvelous as correct mic placement allowed for a balance of the instrumentation and vocals.

Pete Drake’s Talking Actuator

In the 1960s, Nashville session musician, Pete Drake took the technology one step closer to today’s talk box. Drake attached an ordinary paper speaker cone that was attached to a funnel’s wide end and a plastic tube on the narrow end. The tube ran to his mouth where he mouthed words while playing his pedal steel. The device was used on a number of recordings, but was impractical for live performances as the volume levels were low. I am including his single “Forever” and its flip side, “I’m Just a Guitar (Everybody Picks on Me).

Pete Drake: Forever

Pete Drake: I’m Just A Guitar (And Everybody’s Picking on Me)

Doug Forbes’ Voice Bag

During the same period, another isolated event occurred that furthered the talk box technology. According to Doug Forbes, he was working in an electronic store in 1963 and a gentleman came in with an artificial larynx that had a tube connected to a buzzer on one end and the other end was placed in the user’s mouth and he or she would mouth words to communicate.

Wanting to try something different for his band, Forbes and his father rigged up a speaker driver and connected the tube to his mouth for a talking guitar effect. After experimenting with various drivers, he finally had a prototype that he placed in a bag that was slung over his back. The bag was made from green sofa upholstery material and trimmed with gold fringe.

The band’s manager attempted to rip off the idea and presented it to Kustom Electronics, the maker of amps and effects, and they produced a version that they called “the Bag.” Kustom marketed “the Bag” at $99.95 in 1968 (a great deal of money then) and it never achieved popularity. I am not sure that there were any recordings of note using “the Bag.”

 Kustom Electronics' "The Bag" from Doug Forbes design

Bob Heil’s Talk Box

The man generally considered as the inventor of a voice effect for guitar that was of suitable for high wattage output for live performances was Bob Heil. In 1972, Heil worked with Joe Walsh’s guitar tech to develop a 250 watt talk box for use on “Rocky Mountain Way.” Similar to Pete Drake’s and Doug Forbes’ earlier designs, Heil’s initial model was cumbersome and impractical for touring. By 1973, he had placed the speaker driver in a smaller fiberglass box making the effect easy for transport. On a side note, Alvino Rey, Gilbert Wright, and Bob Heil were all ham radio operators and the talk box was an extension of their hobby.

Joe Walsh – Rocky Mountain Way

Peter Frampton Makes the Guitar Come Alive

Peter Frampton, who had worked with Pete Drake on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” LP, was impressed with Drake’s design; however, Drake was not willing to make one for Frampton. Bob Heil heard of Frampton’s interest and he gave him a prototype of his new design as a Christmas present in 1973. When the “Talk Box” was featured on the double live album “Frampton Comes Alive” in 1976, this exposure was viral. The popularity took the device to new heights of awareness. Guitarists all over the world clamored to have one and the rest, as they say, is history.

Peter Frampton – Show Me The Way

Peter Frampton – Do You Feel Like I Do

Bob Heil - 2007 Parnelli Audio Innovator Award Winner

Peter Frampton and Bob Heil Interview - 2009

Build Your Own Talkbox

Here’s an impressive young man that shows you how to build your own talk box so you can feel like Peter Frampton does. By the way for non-geeks, the young innovator mentions a DPDT switch - that is short for double pole, double throw.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet: Theogene Creole

I don’t often feature American roots music, but here’s one I think you will like by BeauSoleil avec (or with) Michael Doucet. Doucet is the lead vocalist and fiddler in this Cajun band from Lafayette, Louisiana. “Theongene Creole” is from their 2009 release, “Alligator Purse.” Too bad I didn't think about featuring them on Fat Tuesday a few weeks back, oh well.

While Michael Doucet is featured in the band’s billing and serves as front man, the others include his brother David Doucet on guitar; Jimmy Breaux on button accordion; Mitch Reed on stand-up bass; and Billy Ware on percussion. On this song, you can see Ware playing claves and shakers. On other recordings, you may find Mitch Reed playing fiddle and Michael Doucet on guitar, accordion, or mandolin.

I really like this tune's rhythm; however, like many monoglots, I haven't a clue what Michael Doucet is singing, but I know I like it whatever it means.

I had an opportunity to see BeauSoleil twice in the 1980s when they performed on West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage. They are as good live as they are in the studio – perhaps even better. Bon temps.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Breaking Benjamin: Who Wants To Live Forever

Monday’s cover song comes from the 2005 various artists’ LP “Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen” and is Breaking Benjamin’s interpretation of the Queen song, “Who Wants to Live Forever.” We rented the movie “Highlander” and watched it the other night and this is my favorite cut from the movie soundtrack.

The song is played when Connor MacLeod is shown ageless as his wife Heather grows older in each scene and subsequently dies in his arms. It is an emotional section of the film that is accompanied by an equally powerful song. Although Freddie Mercury sings all of the lead vocals in the movie version, the single has an interplay between lead vocals by both Brian May and Mercury, which is just wonderful.

From Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, the alternative band Breaking Benjamin has released four albums in addition to performing this cut on the Queen tribute LP. When I was considered finding a cover of the Queen original, I debated on going with one of the better known covers. I’ll include them all here for comparison; however, these other covers closely follow the Queen arrangement. Breaking Benjamin's interpretation is more varied and has an increased tempo.

In addition, I like the chorus effect on the guitar – it sounds like one of the guitarists is using a Roland amp to achieve this sound. Typically, I only like a modicum of chorus – but I like the increased speed of the effect here giving it that Leslie rotating speaker sound on this version. In addition, the bass part is tastefully done as well.

The German band Dune recorded it 1996 and had a hit in their native land as well as in Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden. The following year, Sarah Brightman released her mid-charting version in the UK. Edyta Górniak tried her hand at a Polish language version and had a hit in that country in 2003 under the alternate title “Nieśmiertelni.”

Actually, I like Górniak's arrangement of these three the best. But alas, Breaking Benjamin won my choice as today's feature because 1. Dune’s version was nice, but a little weak – it could have been a bit more powerful; 2. Sarah Brightman’s ending was very unique; however, her interpretation was so operatic that I feel I should be dressed in black tie attire while listening to it; and 3. Edyta Górniak’s techno pop addition in the second verse was a nice touch, however, her release was frankly, well, uh . . . too Polish.

Dune: Who Wants to Live Forever

Sarah Brightman: Who Wants to Live Forever

Edyta Górniak: Nieśmiertelni

Queen’s Single Version

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Angelo Kelly: Rejoice And Be Glad

Let me first apologize for not having an album post yesterday, but it has been such a hectic week that I just didn’t feel like writing. So I am back at it this morning with a brief analysis of a song for a Spiritual Sunday feature: “Rejoice and Be Glad” by Angelo Kelly.

Angelo is playing the Irish bouzouki on this tune and honestly I found his music by searching for Irish bouzouki music. If you may remember, I featured Angelo in December with his rocking, “Smile for the Picture.”

I am not sure what bouzouki tuning Angelo is using on this piece that comes directly from the Beatitudes; however, this will not be the only Sunday feature I have of his. Although he is largely unknown in the United States, he has huge followings in Europe and several of his numbers are Christian themed. Enjoy.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fleetwood Mac: Black Magic Woman

Most people are familiar with the hit version of today’s Friday’s First tune by Santana, but the song was written by Peter Green and was released as a single for his band, Fleetwood Mac, in 1968. The song features Green on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Spencer on guitar, John McVie on bass, and Mick Fleetwood on drums. Issued originally as the band’s third single in Europe, it was released on the US compilation LP “English Rose” in 1969.

In addition to the misconception that this was originally a Santana song, most folk are unaware that Fleetwood Mac existed for eight years before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band in 1975 and helped bring the band to its mainstream notoriety.

From Santana’s second album “Abraxas,” “Black Magic Woman” peaked on the US singles charts at #4 in 1970. To hear this song in its pristine entirety, you must listen to it in the context of the previous cut, “Singing Winds/Crying Beasts,” that opens the album and segues directly into “Black Magic Woman.” In addition, the LP version features “Black Magic Woman” as a medley with Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabó’s “Gypsy Queen.”

Gabor Szabó: Gypsy Queen

Gregg Rolie, who plays a Fender Rhodes electric piano and Hammond Organ on the Santana version, also handles the lead vocals. Rolie, and later Santana member Neil Schon, formed Journey in 1973.

Santana’s Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen