Monday, May 31, 2010

Caroline's Spine: Sullivan

It is Memorial Day in the United States - a day that started as a day of remembrance of the Civil War dead in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic. Originally called Decoration Day, following World War I the holiday came to honor all war dead for our country. I was in a quandary of what song to play for today, thinking that a Civil War related song would be fitting, but had difficulty in determining which would be appropriate and which could be considered a cover.

One of my Civil War Ancestors: John C. Brakeall 
who served in the 3rd Maryland Potomac Home Brigade.
Antioch Christian Church Cemetery in Fulton County, PA.

Secondly, it needed to be a song the dealt with the loss experienced by families and the country in general regarding the sacrificial aspect of war itself. Third, it needed to be something that wasn’t of a novelty nature. Finally, a song that met most of these categories was Caroline’s Spine’s song “Sullivan” about the loss of the five Sullivan brothers during World War II. It fit most if not all the qualifications I was seeking. The only problem was that most of the covers were poorly done, so I utilized a cover of the song by the original artist. Caroline’s Spine recorded an acoustic version of “Sullivan” as part of a radio broadcast.

Original Version by Caroline’s Spine

There are a couple of points of contention about this song that are not historically correct. The Sullivan brothers served aboard a light cruiser the USS Juneau and not a battleship. The family was not informed by telegraph, but was visited personally by a commissioned officer, a non-commissioned officer, and a physician.

Although Thomas Sullivan suffered with the loss of his sons until his 1965 death, Mrs. Sullivan didn’t “crack up”; but rather, she and her husband worked through their grief by throwing themselves into the war effort by visiting shipyards and raising war bonds. Mrs. Sullivan christened the first ship named the USS Sullivans in 1943. A second destroyer bearing the brothers’ name was christened in 1995 by the granddaughter of Al Sullivan, one of the five original brothers.

Photo I took at the Vietnam Wall Memorial - July 2004.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jamey Johnson: Lead Me Home

Jamey Johnson’s “Lead Me Home” is a fitting song for a Memorial Day weekend as I will be joining my friends over in Boone County, West Virginia today standing on the mountain for the yearly gathering of which I have taken part since 1977. It will be a time of singing, a time of preaching, a time of fellowship, a time of great food, and a time of remembrance.

Since 1915, the Sunday before Memorial Day has been set aside as a Decoration Day to remember the dearly departed family members and friends in this part of the country. During the early years of these services, Roy Hager traversed the cemeteries of Boone and Logan counties that dotted the hillsides along the Trace Fork of Big Creek in the Guyandotte River watershed. From what I understand, it was an all day affair with a gathering along the middle of the route for lunch and then continuing in the afternoon until all cemeteries were visited. Every year the starting point alternated.

The crowd at the Workman Cemetery; May 24, 2009 - click photo for a larger view

Preacher Roy Hager was born on December 7, 1891 and he handled the duties of visiting every little cemetery along the creek until the family members stopped coming. By the time Roy was 85 years of age, only family members from three cemeteries were coming. These cemeteries were the Workman Cemetery, the Doss Cemetery, and the Hill Cemetery. In 1977, Roy announced that it was his last year and he asked the families to find a replacement and they asked me. I was 21 at the time when I assisted Roy with his last service.

By 1978, I had officially taken the mantle that Roy had once worn and began holding the services. In a few short years, no members of the Doss family were coming, and the number of cemeteries was whittled down to two. Today, I’ll drive nearly an hour and 45 minutes to hold my 32nd set of services. I can only hope that I will be able to continue to do this work as long as Roy did. By the way, Roy lived ten more years following his “retirement”; he was almost 96 years old.

Some of the singers at the Hill Family Cemetery; May 24, 2009

Most of the folks that encouraged me to take this responsibility back in 1977 and had stood with me on those hillsides are now buried there. I miss them, but know I will see them again when I am reaching over Jordan when the Lord takes my hand and leads me home.


I have seen my last tomorrow,
I am holding my last breath,
Goodbye sweet world of sorrow,
My new life begins with death.

I am standing on the mountain,
I can hear the angels’ songs,
I am reaching over Jordan,
Take my hand Lord - lead me home.

All my burdens are behind me,
I have prayed my final prayer,
Don't you cry over my body,
Cause that ain't me lying there.

No, I am standing on the mountain,
I can hear the angels’ songs,
I am reaching over Jordan,
Take my hand Lord - lead me home.

I am standing (Lord, I am standing) on the mountain (on the mountain),
I can hear (I can hear the angels’ songs) the angels’ songs,
I am reaching over Jordan, (over Jordan)
Take my hand Lord – lead me home.
Take my hand Lord – lead me home.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Easy Rider Soundtrack

With today's passing of Hollywood legend Dennis Hopper, I decided on readjusting my weekly album feature. In honor of Hopper, who shares the lead with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, I am featuring the 1969 soundtrack release from the cult classic “Easy Rider.”

Like with most soundtrack albums, there are some great tunes and there are some dogs. Because it’s my blog, I am going to feature some of my favorites from the LP.

Steppenwolf – Born to be Wild

What motorcycle film would be complete without Steppenwolf’s anthem to the “heavy metal thunder” of a Harley.

Smith – The Weight

This remake doesn’t hold a candle to Levon Helm and The Band’s anthem that appeared in the film. Due to licensing problems, the original by The Band could not appear on the soundtrack. Dunhill Records commissioned one of their artists, a group called Smith, to provide the cover on the soundtrack.

The Byrds – Wasn’t Born to Follow

Several months ago, I featured “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” the original album on which this Gerry Goffin/Carol King composition appeared. “Wasn’t Born to Follow” also features a generous helping of tape flanging.

Roger McGuinn – It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Roger McGuinn’s affinity to Bob Dylan’s music is no secret. The Byrds recorded a number of Dylan tunes, and three of their seven singles to chart in the top 40 were penned by Mr. Zimmerman (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” “All I Really Want to Do,” and “My Back Pages”). McGuinn does justice to this Dylan composition that first appeared on his “Bringing it All Back Home” album.

Rest in Peace Dennis Hopper; 1936-2010.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Great Society: Someone/Somebody To Love

The most successful single release for the Jefferson Airplane was the 1967 single, “Somebody to Love.” Charting at #5, it set the tone for Airplane and Starship recordings to come, as it was the inauguration of the band's second female lead, Grace Slick, who replaced outgoing Signé Anderson. Found on the Airplane’s second LP, “Surrealistic Pillow,” most people do not realize that the song had been previously released by another San Francisco band, The Great Society which also featured Grace Slick on vocals.

Although the lyrics were the same, the original version was titled “Someone to Love” and not “Somebody to Love” as was sung in chorus. Finally, the song credited to Slick was not written by Grace Slick, but rather her ex-husband, Darby Slick. Today’s Friday first recording is the original single mix of “Someone to Love” by Grace Slick and the Great Society. The band later re-recorded the song for a subsequent album release.

Jefferson Airplane’s Hit Version

This was not the only song Grace borrowed from her former band, as “White Rabbit,” which was quite different from the Airplane’s rendition, was also a Great Society live concert favorite. Their version of what was Airplane's next hit single was influenced by Arabian and Klezmer scales and tonalities and had a four minute jam at the head of the song before the vocals even began. Perhaps, I'll feature that someday. For now, here’s Grace and the Airplane with their biggest single to date.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Band of Skulls: Light Of Day

Today’s TV Thursday tune is from an Indie/Grunge/Alternative/I Don’t Know What Label to Use/Power Trio: Band of Skulls. When I heard this song, I imagined if the Rolling Stones had started recording in 2009 instead of 1964, they might have sounded like this. “Light of the Morning,” which is currently featured in the new Ford Mustang commercials, comes from the 2009 debut LP, “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey.”

Band of Skulls is made up of Londoners Russell Marsden on guitar and vocals, Emma Richardson on bass and vocals, and Matt Hayward on drums. While they have achieved some critical acclaim, the band and the CD are too new to judge their overall success; however, I expect that if they haven’t generated a sizeable following yet, they will in due time.

2011 Ford Mustang Commercial

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kittyhawk and the Chapman Stick®

Today’s post is rather serendipitous in nature as I had planned something else, but got sidetracked by a question at work. The other day, a coworker was telling me about a review he read on Tony Levin and the Stickmen. My friend commented on their unusual band name and I said it must be because Tony Levin plays the Stick®. "Stick®," he replied, "what’s that? Is it a different kind of bass (knowing that Levin was formerly the bassist with King Crimson)?" I replied, “not exactly” and proceeded to show him some YouTube examples of videos of the Stick® in action.

I had planned on doing a Wednesday feature on the Chapman Stick® at some point in time, but there is no time like the present to discuss this unique instrument. In 1970, Californian Emmett Champman, who was playing guitar in Barney Kessel’s ensemble, began experimenting with his guitar with a two handed tapping technique. By 1974, he had developed a new instrument that combined the voicings of a bass and guitar and a two-handed playing technique much like a keyboardist.

Stick® inventor and musician Emmett Chapman from a 1982 promotional piece.  
Notice the slimming effects of the Stick® - as Chapman was 300 pounds 
and five' eight" (not really - he is actually very tall and very thin). 

In October 1974, the first commercially available Stick® was delivered to a customer and the rest is history. Like with any manufacturing process, once the original patent expired, others were free to copy some of the design for similar touch-style playing guitar like instruments. Currently, there are at least three other manufacturers that make similar instruments; however, since this is a feature on the Chapman Stick®, it will be the only one I’ll be discussing.

The layout of the  Chapman Stick® is as follows. The basic and original instrument has 10 strings (although other configurations are available) and is divided with five bass and five melody strings. The bass strings are in reverse order and are tuned in fifths. The recommended classic tuning of the 10 string stick is (low to high in reverse order) is C-G-D-A-E for the bass string configuration. While a normal bass is tuned in fourths (E-A-D-G), chords in the bass range often sound better based on fifths. Other instruments using fifths include ‘cello, viola, violin, and mandolin.

The melody strings (comparable to a guitar) are tuned in fourths. The recommended classic tuning in ascending order is F#-B-E-A-D. I can see myself getting really confused over the set – first the fifths on the bass strings and fourths on the melody. The starting point on C for the bass and F# on the melody strings would be enough to drive me crazy. Talk about playing from both hemispheres of the brain. With these seeming limitations, thousands of musicians now play the Stick® with little difficulty and Chapman suggests that anyone can get it out of the box and start playing it.

Well, I have been successful in similar endeavors, but not with every instrument I’ve ever attempted. The current price for a new Stick® runs in the neighborhood of $2000 - $2500, which is much too pricey for an instrument that I may or may not be able to play. Although, I would love to have one, it would have to go to the bottom of my wish list of instruments I don’t own but know I could play out of the box.

This list, in no particular order, includes an octave mandolin, mandocello, baritone guitar, electric sitar, a real clavinet, and an acoustic bass guitar – none of which I own – but would like to have. I would also like to have a palatial estate, a Maserati, and my children to give me the unlimited respect that I really deserve – but don’t see any these happening in my lifetime – well, maybe the respect issue once my kids graduate from the teenage years.

My first experience with the Stick® was seeing an article and/or an ad in Guitar Player. The first recording I remember owning that featured not one, not two, but three Stickers, Stickies, Stickists, er, Stick® players was the band Kittyhawk. I read about them, I believe, in Guitar Player; but it could have been in any number of music trade publications I was receiving in the early 80s.

I was so intrigued by what I read and their incorporation of unusual instruments such as fretless guitar, Lyricon (a woodwind synth), and the Stick® - I had to own their first two LPs – to which my EMI/Liberty rep, Dave Blanford, saw that I received both “Kittyhawk” and “Race to the Oasis.” Although I was working in top-forty at the time (WCIR in Beckley, WV), I still had an attachment to fusion that I discovered in the late seventies. If I remember correctly, one of the members had a familial connection to the Wright Brothers and hence the band utilized the brothers Wright's famous launch site for their name.


The opening cut to the self-titled “Kittyhawk” album was the song “Islands” and features both Paul Edwards and Daniel Bortz playing Stick® on this recording from the PBS special “First Flight.” Randy Strom is missing from the lineup on this tune and I am a little confused on whether he was a regular member of the band, an occasional recording and performing sideman, or he joined the band for the second LP. The recording also includes Michael Jochum on drums and percussion and Richard Elliot on alto sax. Part of my attraction with the sound of Kittyhawk was Paul Edwards’ vocal treatments. Often he sang in unison or in harmony at a fifth and sometimes an octave above Richard Elliot’s saxophone.

Bells of Taliesin

This cut from the second LP, “Race for the Oasis,” features Randy Strom and Paul Edwards on Stick®. Daniel Bortz is playing the fretless guitar – which by far is one of the more interesting instruments on this cut. Strom and Edwards Stick® playing takes on the role traditionally relegated to keyboards. Richard Elliot plays the tenor sax.

Big City

We return to the four piece version of Kittyhawk with “Big City” from the debut LP. This song showcases Richard Elliot on Lyricon (the woodwind synthesizer). Bortz is on a classic gold-top Gibson Les Paul (fretted of course).

Race for the Oasis

The piece that ended the PBS special “First Flight” is “Race for the Oasis.” The saxophone that Richard Elliot plays is a curved soprano model. Most people are familiar with the straight version of the instrument like Kenny G plays. I have a 1925 Buescher and is a straight model that I dealt with earlier on this blog. The first curved model I had ever seen was played by Jan Garbarek on his ECM recordings from the 1970s.

The Final Word

Intrigued by Kittyhawk's sound, I sent away for information on the Stick® . I did this often in those days as I loved getting mail and reading about different instruments. The list price in 1982 was $945 with case. Needless to say, since I just took out two loans to pay for a Prophet 5 synthesizer, I was not able to purchase one during the height of my interest and when I was single and able to buy frivolities on a whim. I was already overextended as it was.

It appears that there is resurgent interest in Kittyhawk. New, high quality videos appeared on YouTube two weeks ago and a new web site appears to have debuted last month and is being updated frequently. Perhaps they have returned for a second flight. We can only hope.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Alan Stivell: Brian Borou

It’s Traditional/Roots Tuesday and today’s feature is an artist that I became acquainted with in 1974 when I purchased his first LP: “Reflets.” Alan Stivell is a master of the Breton harp and has fully embraced the culture and the music of Brittany in France. Stivell sings in a combination of languages during this tune: Irish Gaelic and in Breton.

Breton, the Celtic language of the region, is akin to Cornish and Welsh in its construction and shares words and phraseology with both of these languages. The song, “Brian Borou,” is a traditional Irish tune that honors the memory of the legendary king that united the various Irish tribal leaders in opposition to Viking oppressors. Before starting this blog, I featured this on my Facebook site – so for those Facebook friends, it will be a repeat. For everyone else, enjoy “Brian Borou” for the first time here.

Even though English speakers cannot understand what Stivell is singing, his beautiful voice and mastery of the harp transcends all language showing that music is universal and we can appreciate the beauty in the sound without fully understanding the words.

The monochromatic striped flag that is seen throughout this video is the flag of Brittany – one of the six Celtic nations. The other participants of the Celtic league include Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. The flag of Cornwall is only black and white like the flag of Brittany.

Created in 1923 and inspired by the flags of the United States and Greece, the Breton flag was at one time suspect in France due to separatist political ideologies. By the 1960s, the political connotations subsided. The flag’s canton has the heraldic symbol for ermine fur which was used on the arms of the Duchy of Brittany in the middle ages. The nine stripes represent nine diocesan divisions of the traditional territory of Brittany. Five white stripes represent the French speaking dioceses while the four black stripes are for the Breton speaking regions.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Peter Frampton: Black Hole Sun

The start of a new week brings about Monday’s cover song and today’s recording comes from Peter Frampton’s 2006 Grammy winning “Best Instrumental Album”: “Fingerprints.” The cover is Soundgarden’s #1 hit from 1994, “Black Hole Sun.” The recording includes two members of Pearl Jam, drummer Matt Cameron and guitarist, Mike McCready. Cameron, as a member in Soundgarden, played on the original.

Live Version

To understand what Frampton et al are doing in this song, we need to see a live video. The first effect PF uses to get that sustaining synth sound is that gadget that looks like a small stapler. No ma, that’s no stapler – it’s an EBow – short for Energy Bow or Electric Bow. The EBow can create a variety of sounds from a small hand held, battery powered magnetic devise that interacts with the strings and pickups of an electric guitar.The EBow has been around since the 1970s. The latest model is called the Plus EBow (no joke) "plus-e-bow effect" (this is the joke).

The second effect almost mimics a voice, a talk box effect, or wah-wah pedal - it sounds like the effect Frampton used on "Show Me the Way," which by the way was a talk box. The live video shows that it is neither a talk box nor a wah-wah pedal. This particular effect is known by a couple of different names: an envelope filter or auto-wah.

Both terms refer to similar devices that accomplish the same thing - which is to basically provide an automated wah effect – that’s the short, non-technical explanation. It can be used (when the speed is adjusted) to create that wah-wah effect so commonly found on 70s soul and funk records - without wearing out your ankle in process. I used to have a wah-wah, but broke the dang thing using it in bands in the 80s.

On the rhythm guitar, the third effect may be a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet. Well, actually the cabinet doesn't rotate, but the speaker does.  This is class effect found on many Hammond organ tracks and George Harrison slide guitar parts. Soundgarden used a Leslie on their recording; however, a good chorus effect should be sufficient to sound like a Leslie and may be what is used here. A chorus, which can be held in your hand, is a lot smaller than a Leslie cabinet and less prone to electronic or mechanical failure - and much cheaper to replace.  

Besides using distortion and other standard guitar effects, Frampton utilizes his time honored effect – the infamous talk box to round out this instrumental recording.

Soundgarden’s Very Bizarre Original Video

From what I understand, the concept behind this video was solely the producer's; the band had little input into its direction – although it is reported that they were pleased with the final project. It is pretty interesting in a disturbing sort of way.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mike Deasy: All God's Children

I remember seeing Mike Deasy’s first album in the record stores in the early 70s, but never purchased it. I did play some of his later records with his wife Kathie at WKCC. Over the years, I lost track of the Deasys and their music – until YouTube allowed me to reconnect. Mike and Kathie are still performing; and as his Facebook page touts, “Mike Deasy once played guitar for the King of Rock N Roll, Elvis. Now he plays guitar for the King of Kings . . . Jesus.” From that first album, here’s Mike with “All God’s Children.”

One of the things I remember concerning Mike’s debut solo LP, “Letters to my Head,” was the picture of his guitars. I was especially enamored by his two custom carved Fender guitars a Stratocaster and Broadcaster. Doug Rowell, a sculptor and wood carver, has beautified numerous guitars with custom carvings with these two as examples of his work.

According to Rowell, “The body is a biblical scene with Jesus, staff in hand, laying a blessing hand on the bridge of the guitar. The real jewel encrusted pick guard (jade, sapphire & star sapphire) displays a laughing face of Christ. One blue sapphire is set in Christ's eye.”

On the Fender Broadcaster, Rowell explains: “The body is a scene of Christ's tomb. The stone has been rolled away and Christ is ascending to heaven surrounded by a dozen angels. Mary stands in front of the open tomb. The pick guard is black on black . . . engraved in it is the text of "John 3:16." On the headstock, the original decal was copied in bas relief, preserving the word ‘Broadcaster.’”

While Mike still owns both guitars; however, the Strat was out of his possession for over 25 years as it had been stolen.  Five years after it was stolen, it was sold to an individual who owned it until his death 20 years later. A reward posted on the Doug Rowell's web site prompted its return.  Following the owner's passing, his brother saw to it that the guitar was returned to Mike after reading about its fate on the Internet.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions

Hearing Howlin’ Wolf’s version of “Sitting on top of the World” earlier in the week reminded me of one the later Wolf LPs that was released in 1971. “The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions” featured an “all star” cast of musicians that acted as the blues legend’s sidemen. One of my favorite cuts on the LP is actually two – the rehearsal and the actual recording of “Little Red Rooster.” Credited on the LP as “The Red Rooster,” the rehearsal has Howlin’ Wolf showing Eric Clapton how to play slide guitar. It is one of those classic moments where Clapton, in all his humility, persuades the blues master to show him how to really play the blues.

The album was kind of a brilliant serendipitous idea by Chess Records' producer Norman Dayron who approached Eric Clapton backstage at a concert about the concept. Clapton agreed and the sessions were scheduled for early May 1970. Although Chess Record owner Marshall Chess did not want incur the expense of sending Howlin’ Wolf’s longtime guitar sideman, Hubert Sumlin, to London, Clapton insisted that he be present and Chess bit the bullet. Sumlin is featured on all of the cuts.

The cover lists the session greats that accompanied Howlin’ Wolf as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. Clapton is the only one who appears on all 13 cuts and Steve Winwood was not in London when the original tracks were being recorded; however, he participated on five cuts that were overdubbed at Chess Studios as 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Wyman and Watts were missing from two tracks each. “Rockin’ Daddy” has Phil Upchurch playing bass.  On “I Ain’t Superstitious,” Ringo Starr (credited as Ritchie) plays drums while longtime Beatles friend Klaus Voorman appears on bass. Wyman made it to this session; however, he plays cowbell as opposed to his primary instrument of bass.

2120 S. Michigan Ave. was the home of Chicago's Chess Records.  
Taken during a pilgrimage to the location during the summer of 2006

In addition, Ian Stewart, a member of the Rolling Stones’ entourage, played piano on four of the cuts. It is only fitting that the Stones' members Watts, Wyman, and Stewart participated in this project as one of their early instrumental recordings was titled "2120 S. Michigan Avenue" in honor of Chess Records physical location. The historic site is now home of Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven.  Dixon was a longtime session bassist, songwriter, and producer for Chess Records.  "The Howlin' Wolf London Sessions" included four Willie Dixon compositions; "I Ain't Superstitious," "Built for Comfort," "Do the Do," and "Wang-Dang-Doodle." Unfortunately, Dixon was not involved personally in this recording.

 Willie Dixon - built for comfort not for speed

Other musicians appearing on the recording included Chess session keyboardist Lafayette Leake who appeared on three cuts during the overdub sessions. Members of the 43rd Street Snipers also added their talents to the Chicago sessions and included their horn section on two cuts and blues harpist Jeffrey Carp on five selections.

Unfortunately, the19-year old harmonica virtuoso died within months of his participation on this release. To celebrate his appearance on the LP, he and his girlfriend had booked a holiday cruise to Panama. During the New Year’s Eve celebration, another passenger went berserk and began stabbing a number of passengers. In the ensuing chaos, Carp jumped overboard to save himself; however, he couldn’t swim and his body was never recovered. He certainly would have had a promising career. Although Carp’s harp playing is represented on a number of other recordings, he is largely unknown today.

“The Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions” was the first in a series of recordings that Chess Released in the early 70s that also included albums by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. Muddy Waters, like the Howlin’ Wolf release, featured current rock sidemen. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley’s albums were live concert recordings. The London Sessions releases, along with several repacked compilations (the three volume Chuck Berry Golden Decade sets and the Blues Masters series) served to breathe new life into the flummoxing Chess Records, which had some less than profitable years.

I wanted to feature the entire LP today, but not all of the songs are available on YouTube. Nine of the 13 cuts (listed here as 8 tracks since the two versions of “The Red Rooster” are in one video) are featured on YouTube and I have included a playlist featuring these songs.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Johnny Burnette: You're Sixteen

Today’s Friday First recording is dedicated to my eldest daughter who reaches the magical age of 16 today. So many songs were written and recorded about this special birthday and age, I was thinking about suspending my normal Friday theme and feature a couple of 16 themed songs; however, as I was gathering songs, I remembered one cover that eclipsed the original hit record.

While both were certified hits, Ringo Starr’s “You’re Sixteen” peaked at #1 during the final week of 1973. The original by Johnny Burnette was also a top 10 hit that peaked at 8 during November 1960. Here’s the stereo studio recording of Burnette’s original.

Live Version from 1960

July 1996 - the author with his two girls.  Our youngest is just six days
old and the birthday girl is two years old. I had much less gray hair then.

Ringo’s #1 Version from 1973

While Johnny Burnette had a classic hit with “You’re Sixteen,” Ringo’s single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales in excess of one million copies.

Happy Birthday sweetie – I hope today brings you as much joy as you have brought us.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Miriam Makeba: Pata Pata

Earlier this week I mentioned Hugh Masekela in conjunction with The Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.” I neglected to ask a trivia question. What top 20 hit mentioned him by name in the lyrics? The answer will appear at the end of this post.

I mention Masekela as his ex-wife is the featured artist for today’s TV Thursday theme. Miriam Makeba, who was married to Masekela from 1964 to 1966, had one hit record in the US: her 1967 song “Pata Pata” which is now being used for the latest Honda Accord Crosstour commercial.

There is one word for this song by Miriam Makeba: infectious. Sung in the Xhosa language of her father, “Pata Pata” can be translated into English as “Touch Touch.” Xhosa is the most popular of the Bantu languages spoken in Makeba’s homeland of South Africa. The Bantu language family includes 668 sub-Saharan separate languages that are spoken throughout the continent.

While I can’t understand the words, the song makes me happy when I hear it. Despite that the majority of Americans also couldn’t understand it did not prevent it from charting at #12 in 1967. What a perfect song to fit a product that is touted as “it fits without fitting in.”

The Honda Accord Crosstour Commercial

By the way, the answer to the trivia question is the 1967 hit by Eric Burdon and the Animals “Monterey” where Burdon sings, “Hugh Masekela’s music was black as night.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010) Chronological Compendium

The world lost a rock ‘n roll legend on Sunday when Ronnie James Dio succumbed to the stomach cancer that was detected six months earlier in November 2009. He was almost 68 years old. I had not followed Dio, but as I prepared to write this, I remembered his music and have grown to appreciate his vocal talents through an extensive study of his varied career.

Ronnie and the Red Caps: An Angel is Missing

As you would expect anyone who was born in the 1940s and aspired to be a rock ‘n roll singer in the 1950s, he would sing the type of music that was popular during the latter half of that decade. Ronnie and the Red Caps started as the Vegas Kings in 1957, changed their name to Ronnie and the Rumblers, and in 1958 were known as Ronnie and the Red Caps. The band recorded a number of sides including “An Angel is Missing.”

Ronnie and the Prophets: Don’t Take your Love from Me

In 1961, Ronnie and the Red Caps were further rebranded as Ronnie and the Prophets. Following their cues from popular bands of the era, Dio and company did a number of popular styles of the day – vocal music and straight ahead rock ‘n roll. The following example is a medium tempo ballad that showcases how expressive Dio’s voice was.

The Electric Elves: It Pays to Advertise

When Ronnie and the Prophets disbanded in 1967, guitarist Nick Pantas and vocalist Ronnie James Dio formed The Electric Elves and again followed the trends of the day and recorded one psychedelic single for MGM: “Hey, Look Me Over” backed with “It Pays to Advertise.” In my opinion, the B side, featured here, is the stronger of the two.

The Elves: West Virginia

By 1969, The Electric Elves shortened their moniker to simply The Elves and recorded a pair of singles for the American Decca label. The second single “Amber Velvet” was backed with a song composed by keyboardist Doug Thaler titled “West Virginia.” This 1970 single was produced by veteran songwriter, vocalist, and producer Scott English.

Elf: Sit Down Honey

By 1972, The Elves evolved into Elf – the band that would bring Ronnie James Dio into the attention of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore as the band frequently opened for Deep Purple during the 1970s. The band was influenced by Rod Stewart, Jethro Tull, and straight ahead blues as evidenced from their recordings. From their debut LP “Elf,” Ronnie sings “Sit Down Honey.”

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow: Man on the Silver Mountain

While Ritchie Blackmore was still working with Deep Purple, he formed his band Rainbow with all of the former members of Elf with the exception of guitarist Steve Edwards. Dio would be the only one that survived the first LP and recorded three albums with Rainbow.

Kerry Livgren (with Ronnie James Dio): To Live for the King

While between gigs, Dio recorded two songs for Kansas’ keyboardist/guitarist Kerry Livgren’s first solo album: “Seeds of Change.” I feel that this is one of Dio’s best vocal performances and the song reminds me of “In this Place” from Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs.”

Black Sabbath: Sign of the Southern Cross

When Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio was asked to be his replacement and stayed with the band to record two LPs: “Heaven and Hell” and “Mob Rules.” From his second LP with the band, here’s “Sign of the Southern Cross.”

Dio: Holy Diver

When Dio left Sabbath in 1982, he did so to form his own band that bore his stage surname of Dio. The title cut of their debut album, “Holy Diver” was also Dio’s first single release and first MTV video. The single charted at #40 in the US and features the excellent guitar work of Viv Campbell.

Deep Purple (with Ronnie James Dio): Rainbow in the Dark

In 2000, Ronnie James Dio was asked to do some guest appearances with his old friends in Deep Purple. The band Dio’s recording of “Rainbow in the Dark” was the highest charting single in Ronnie James Dio’s career peaking in the US at #14 in 1983. The band is the classic lineup of Deep Purple sans Ritchie Blackmore with Steve Morse handling the guitar chores. This is one of my favorite songs of RJD.

Heaven and Hell: Die Young

From 2005 until this year, the band Heaven and Hell, a reincarnation of the Black Sabbath, of Ronnie James Dio’s days (1980-1982 and 1991-1992) took to the stage. Besides Dio on vocals, the band featured Tommy Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass, and Vinny Appice on drums. “Die Young” originally from the Sabbath LP “Heaven & Hell” showcases the guitar wizardry of Tommi Iommi on his Gibson SG guitar.

Rest in peace Ronnie.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Doc & Merle Watson: Sitting On Top Of The World

Coming home from graduation on this past Saturday, I sat in my driveway listening to a piece on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” about a new blues compendium. Called “Classic Appalachian Blues,” the new compellation celebrates the blues not from the Mississippi Delta or Chicago but from Appalachia and the Piedmont.

One of the cuts they played on Saturday was Doc Watson's 1964 recording of “Sitting on Top of the World.” My own experience with this recording was the version by Cream which appeared on both “Wheels of Fire” and “Goodbye.” Their version was an extension of the arrangement by Howlin’ Wolf. I had never heard the white blues version as Watson had recorded and am featuring a live recording by Doc and his late son Merle doing “Sitting on Top of the World.”

Yesterday, I told my brother Chuck about this new release from Smithsonian-Folkways and played part of the Watson version over the telephone, he admitted to me he had heard this arrangement decades ago at the hands of our father, Charles Ellsworth Owston. My dad was a versatile musician who played folk guitar, tenor guitar, Hawaiian steel guitar, and boogie woogie piano. Unfortunately, I never heard him play any of these instruments as he had a stroke in August 1959 when I was 3 1/2 years old and the damage to his left side prevented him from enjoying music first hand as he had in the past.

Come to think of it, my brother Chuck continued the guitar tradition in our family the very same month my dad had his stroke. This is quite ironic when you think about it. I don’t know if any recordings of my dad exist anywhere, but if there were reel to reel tapes (as we had a reel to reel deck in our home), they are long gone. There is only one known photo of dad with an instrument – an out-of-focus self portrait of him playing his Kalamazoo KG-11 guitar built circa 1931. The photo was probably taken during the late 1940s.

Charles Ellsworth Owston, 1913-1962

Meanwhile, back to the story, Chuck had plenty of opportunities of hearing my dad play. Dad and his fellow musician friends, who worked at the Westinghouse Airbrake, would gather together at the Filler Hotel on Sunday afternoons for impromptu jam sessions. This long forgotten landmark located on Pitcairn Street in Wilmerding, PA became a school room of old folk and country blues as my brother had the opportunity to hear this and other songs played by my father and his friends.

Often, my dad played his Domino Tenor Guitar at these sessions – a guitar that he had originally purchased for his three nieces, but when they were no longer interested in music, he retrieved the instrument and played it himself until giving it to my brother – who spray painted it magenta. I’m sure these were special times and wish I could have been there to hear the music that was generated by these skilled craftsmen of acoustic music.

The Mississippi Sheiks

“Sitting on Top of the World” was a Mississippi Delta blues song that was originally recorded in 1930 by the Mississippi Sheiks.

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

Probably the first white recording of this song was done by the western swing ensemble, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. This live version from 1951 showcases the song Wills and company made famous to white audiences in 1935.

Howlin’ Wolf

The rendition that influenced most rockers, including Cream, was the version by Chester Burnett – otherwise known as Howlin’ Wolf.


Finally, a more recent version of Cream’s interpretation of this timeless classic. Recorded during their reunion tour of 2005, the song showcases the vocals and harmonica by bassist Jack Bruce.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star

I can remember it like it was yesterday, but it was 1979. I was listening to WHPW – the third station in the West Virginia Public Radio network. The call letters as it was rumored were hoped to be WHPR for Huntington (WV) Public Radio, but WHPR was unavailable and someone with a sense of humor suggested WHPW for Huntington Public Wadio. Since it was available, it apparently stuck. Well at least until 1985 when the call letters were changed to WVWV to fall in line with the network’s penchant to have as many call signs that started with WV. The station was new to Huntington and I was a Marshall University grad student at the time.

Typically, I was out and about during the mid afternoon taking a break from the classes I taught and the classes I was taking during the evening. Normally at this time, I caught the afternoon show that was hosted by Dave Alley. I loved Dave’s musical choices as well as his insight to the sounds of the various artists he featured. Several years later, I had a chance to work with him ever so briefly in 1985 when I hired him to cut some voicers for me at WOAY-FM.

On one afternoon, Dave was alternating the recordings of Tom Petty and Heartbreakers with those of The Byrds. I hadn’t thought of it, but he made a good case that the Heartbreakers, with the 12 string Rickenbacker Guitars of Mike Campbell and Tom Petty, were the musical descendents of The Byrds. So, it makes perfect sense that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would do a Byrds’ song live – and hence, our Monday cover of “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” is apropos.

The Byrds’ Original

The song was inspired when Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman were thumbing through teeny bop magazines that were promoting the latest and greatest rock stars. Rumor has it that it was the Monkees that particularly caught their attention in this regard. So Roger & Chris decided that if someone wanted to be a Rock ‘N’ Roll star, they needed to have a kit to help them reach their goals.

Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
and learn how to play
And with your hair swung right
And your pants too tight
It's gonna be all right

Chris Hillman’s driving bass was developed while he was doing some session work for a Hugh Masekela recording. Masekela, by the way, is playing the trumpet part on The Byrds’ recording from the album “Younger than Yesterday.” The single peaked in the U.S. at #29 in 1967.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pentangle: No More My Lord

Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall on June 29, 1968, the English folk-rock ensemble recorded the first commercial recording of this spiritual of unknown origin. This version comes from their second album “Sweet Child” and features the vocals of Jacqui McShee and the prominent drumming of Terry Cox. The recording includes Bert Jancsh and John Renbourn on guitars and Danny Thompson on stand-up bass.

The song was discovered in 1947 or 1948 by Alan Lomax as he was recording songs for the Library of Congress at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, which was also known at the time as the Parchman Farm. The vocalist on the original recording was by a prisoner named Walter Jackson who was known by the appellation “Tangle Eye.”

Until the 1990s, there were only a handful of recordings of this tune. These included the original by “Tangle Eye,” which was released in the 1960s; the Pentangle version from 1968; and the first US commercial recording of this song by my brother and sister-in-law from 1970. Their version followed the Pentangle arrangement as did some of the other more recent versions of the tune. Others are true to “Tangle Eye’s” original field holler version.

I guess I am partial to the Pentangle version as it is the one I am most familiar. To hear my brother’s version, check out the blog regarding the pressings of Rite Records in Cincinnati: “That’s All Rite, Mama.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Old School Abbey: Protect You

While typically I feature an album on Saturdays, I am going to deviate from this practice today to feature a song by local band that I recently discovered via a number of sources. Part of this deviation is based upon today being the 76th commencement for my current employer Mountain State University (nee – Beckley College 1933-1991 and The College of West Virginia 1991-2001). Yesterday during graduation practice, I was reminded of the group Old School Abbey and their song “Protect You” when I saw the video that will be used in today’s ceremony. The video is structured around the lyrics to this song.

I first heard this cut several months ago when my youngest daughter, who controls the radio in my car, were coming home from somewhere and heard this tune on WCIR-FM, a former employer of mine from 1981-1983. Not knowing it was local band at the time, both my daughter and I were impressed with this song – the instrumental and vocal performance, its lyrical content, and production. Several days later, one the jocks back sold the song and provided the information that they were from Beckley, WV – my residence for almost thirty years. Having been out of the local music scene for almost two decades, I was unaware of this band and how good they are.

Old School Abbey

A few days later, I called a friend of mine John Sellards – and told him I had seen something in the local paper about one of his relatives and John thought I was referring to Nick Durm – a cousin of his in Old School Abbey – I was not, but John told me about his connection to Nick and how their band was doing quite well with their new CD release. It was during this conversation that I realized that the band of which he spoke and the one I had heard on the radio were one in the same. I agreed that there was something about this song that had hit potential written all over it.

Prior to MSU’s graduate hooding ceremony yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Nick Durm – the man behind the song and the vocals of “Protect You.” I was really impressed with this man’s talent. John, who introduced us, made the comment that no one could write a song hook like Nick. From what I have heard from their album “Only a Dream” and being that I respect John's opinions on music (as he has one of the best ears of anyone I know), I wholeheartedly concur.

Nick Durm of Old School Abbey

We had a brief chat about song writing and the music industry from which I learned that John had been bragging on my own career and specifically how I received a platinum album for the first Men At Work LP and a platinum single for Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” We discussed the anomaly of this song and how it became a hit and broke out of West Virginia – with three stations in the country playing this single first – WKEE in Huntington, WCIR in Beckley, and WVSR in Charleston.

I spoke about going to the Bobby Poe Radio and Records Convention in Atlanta telling other programmers to just put this song on the radio one time to see the response. We did at the suggestion of my friend Gary “Music” Miller at KEE in Huntington and the phones went crazy. I also admitted, while I was not terribly fond of this song or its writer/producer Jim Steinman, it was a definite hit. Not many singles are certified platinum – so that should say something.

Meanwhile back to Nick and Old School Abbey, “Only a Dream” is their second LP and was recorded at Mission Bells in San Francisco with David Simon-Baker as the album’s producer. Simon-Baker’s talent is evident on these recordings as mix is one of the cleanest I’ve heard in a long time. When you listen to “Protect You,” you can hear everything in the context of the song. My favorite instrument in the whole song is the organ – it is tastefully done; however, it is Nick’s vocals that make this tune.

According to the group’s bio, “Their sound is described as ‘the way rock should-unpolished and bustling with energy...’ Tinges of Ben Harper, Dave Matthews, Keller Williams, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and a whole host of acoustic solo rockers drip all over the music of OSA, with a delightful electric twist that adds a new get-up-and-go!” I couldn’t agree more. It is only a matter of time until Old School Abbey breaks into the big time – let’s hope that is sooner than later.

MSU Graduation Video - Make Your Move

Friday, May 14, 2010

Albert Hammond: The Air That I Breathe

The last big hit for the Hollies was their rendition of the Albert Hammond and Lee Hazelwood composition. Today’s Friday Firsts selection traces the evolution of this song. First, the original recording in 1972 by its co-author, Albert Hammond, was unable to produce a hit. Later that year, Hammond’s “It Never Rains in Southern California” was a top five hit in the U.S. Here’s the original.

Phil Everly’s Rendition

The very next year, on the advice of his producer Duane Eddy, Phil Everly recorded the song and his version was the one that the Hollies heard and mimicked the arrangement – which by the way was written by Warren Zevon. RCA only issued the single in the U.K. and apparently did not promote it well enough for it to chart.

The Hollies Hit Version

By 1974, Allan Clarke had rejoined the Hollies and put his voice to work on this song which charted at #2 in Britain and #6 in the U.S. where the single was certified gold. As stated previously, it was the bands last hit record. Alan Parsons, who engineered the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” sessions and would have hits in his own right several years later, was the engineered on the Hollies version of the song.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Marlena Shaw: California Soul

Back in 2008, Levis utilized a cover version of a moderate hit for the Fifth Dimension to advertise their Dockers line. “California Soul” was written by husband and wife songwriting/production team of Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. While the song charted for the Fifth Dimension at #25 in 1968 and at #56 for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1970. Sandwiched between these two singles was the 1969 album cut by Marlena Shaw from her second album, “The Spice of Life.”

Released on Chess Records’ subsidiary Cadet, Shaw’s version of “California Soul” has been used in a number of different commercials around the world. It is also has been popular with a number of artists who have sampled Shaw’s version as part of recent recordings. Although the version was not a popular hit, it has become a cult favorite.

Dockers Commercial

Filmed in one of my favorite cities, the Dockers’ commercial features a number of the sights of the city by the bay. I had the opportunity to spend a week in SF in 2005 and was fortunate enough to see many of the tourist attractions and to meet a lot of nice folks and eat at some of the finest restaurants in the world.

The Fifth Dimension’s Version

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Rendition

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Frank Frazetta 1928-2010: Rest In Peace

The world lost a great artist Monday when Frank Frazetta passed away at the age of 82. I’ve been a fan of his artwork since the early seventies when I got my first paperbacks of the Robert E. Howard (and L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter) fantasy character Conan. My first two books in the series were “Conan the Conqueror” and “Conan of Cimmeria” and the art from both covers would later surface on record albums – Molly Hatchet’s “Beatin’ the Odds” and Dust’s “Hard Attack.” Characteristic of Frazetta's art - the men were invincible and the women beautiful.

While Frazetta’s cover art would attract heavier bands from the 70s onward, he also produced a number of covers for soundtracks one of which brought his name to the forefront. His first soundtrack cover was an adaptation of the poster he designed for the movie “What’s New Pussycat.” The opportunity to do that poster and album cover came when executives at United Artists saw Frazetta’s parody in Mad Magazine of a Breck Shampoo ad. The ad for Blecch featured Frazetta’s depiction of Ringo Starr and ad copy reminiscent of Breck ads. Frazetta admitted that doing the poster earned him more in one day than he earned in the entire previous year.

His second LP was comedian Earl Doud’s “Welcome to the LBJ Ranch” which was followed up by “Both Sides of Herman’s Hermits.” Other movie soundtracks where his art graced the LP covers included “Hotel Paradiso”; “Fitzwilly”; “The Fastest Guitar Alive”; “The Night they Raided Minsky’s”; “Yours, Mine, and Ours”; and “The Gauntlet.” While he produced a number of soundtrack covers, the reuse of his existing art for album covers introduced his talents to a younger generation.

Dust: Hard Attack

Dust, an early heavy metal band from New York, only produced two albums in their short career. The band’s second LP incorporated Frazetta’s “The Snow Giants” which had previously appeared on the cover of “Conan of Cimmeria.”

Released in 1972, this was my first Frazetta LP cover and I’m featuring “Walk in the Soft Rain.”

Nazareth: Expect No Mercy

In 1977, Scottish rockers Nazareth released their ninth studio album “Expect No Mercy” that adapted Frazetta’s “the Brain” for its cover.

Here’s “All the King’s Horses”:

Three by Molly Hatchet

Molly Hatchet, a southern rock band from Jacksonville, Florida, probably did more to raise awareness of Frazetta’s art than anyone else as their first three album covers featured his work.

“The Death Dealer” was the basis of the cover of the first album.

“Flirtin’ with Disaster” utilized the painting “Dark Kingdom.”

Album three, “Beatin’ the Odds,” featured the Frazetta work “Berserker.”

The most popular Molly Hatchet song was the title cut from their second LP “Flirtin’ with Disaster.”

Last night, I remembered Frank Frazetta by listening to these classic rock tunes while thumbing through my copies of the three volume set, “The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta.” Rest in Peace Frank.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Emmylou Harris & Mary Black: Green Rolling Hills

If you count the three months I lived in Chester, WV in 1975 and the four months I lived near Logan, WV in 1976, I have now been in the Mountain State of West Virginia for a total of 30 years. It is hard to believe that I’ve been here that long, but it is equally as difficult to believe that I have lived anywhere else.

When I think of my adopted home, one of the songs that comes to mind was recorded by Emmylou Harris and Fayssoux Starling (now McLean) on Emmylou’s 1978 album “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town.” This was the second of the four or five Emmylou albums that I own and “Green Rolling Hills (of West Virginia)” was one of my favorite tunes. Today’s Traditional Tuesday feature is a more recent recording with Mary Black from the “Transatlantic Sessions, Volume I.”

Written by the late U. Utah Phillips whose normal fare was labor protest songs. Besides Harris and Black, this particular recording features the dueling fiddles of Aly Bain and Jay Unger. Bain was a founding member of The Boys of the Lough and Ungar who got his start with David Bromberg but is probably best known for his composition and recording “Ashokan Farewell” which was used as a theme for Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on the Civil War. Ungar’s wife, Molly Mason, is playing bass on this cut.

American bluegrass musician Russ Barenberg is the feature mandolin picker on this cut. He is often sought out as a session musician by those much more famous than he. Phil Cunningham of Silly Wizard is playing the low D pennywhistle. I love the sound of these – but haven’t bit the bullet to buy one as they are a little expensive. Mary Black hails from Ireland in this confluence of artists from Scotland, Ireland, and America.