Monday, October 31, 2011

Outlaws: (Ghost) Riders In The Sky

While several artists recorded “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” in the year following the penning of the song by Stan Jones in 1948, Vaughan Monroe and the Moon Men’s rendition was the #1 record.

Monroe's release beat out Burl Ives’ version that hit the chart first, Bing Crosby’s top 20 cover, and Peggy Lee’s recording that was favorite by disc jockey’s – but it lack the sales for it to perform well on the primary popular music chart. Since that time numerous artists recorded “Ghost Riders” – notably the Ramrods version 1961 version was the first rock ‘n roll release of the tune.

Fast forward 31 years later to 1980 when the Outlaws released their rocking version and title cut to their “Ghost Riders” LP. The single peaked at 31 on the Hot 100 and was a favorite on AOR radio. What a great jam and it fulfils our final Halloween themed tune. Happy Halloween – watch out for the “Ghost Riders in the Sky” – it is “A Cowboy Legend” – “Yip – e – I – ay, yip – e – I – o”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Richard Thompson: Season Of The Witch

For Saturday’s bubbling under hit, there are just so many versions of the Donovan song “Season of the Witch,” I had a hard time choosing which one – Bloofield, Kooper, and Stills? – like the guitar – but the horns, hmmm. Vanila Fudge – my first exposure to the tune – a little too psychedelic for a snowy Saturday before Halloween. Julie Driscoll and Brian Augur – too jazz influenced. Plus, I’ve already featured Donovan’s original version in the past.

What a dilemma, until I remembered that years ago I heard Richard Thompson’s version on the TV show “Crossing Jordan.” Thompson is one my favorite artists, so that decision was easy. His rendition appears on the “Crossing Jordan” soundtrack. It has an edge to help me prepare to drive over an hour this morning to a conference where I am participating as a presenter.

Thompson is at his best on this song – which was made for jamming – which is why every version that has been released has been in excess to a typical song’s release times. Even Donovan’s, which was recording in 1966, ran close to five minutes. Vanilla Fudge’s version was in the 9 minute range. Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, and Stephen Stills cover went close to 10 minutes in length. Even Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger passed 7 ½ minutes. Richard’s version comes in a 9:19.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bobby (Boris) Pickett And The Crypt-Kickers

It’s the better late than never post for today, as I finally get my Friday Flipside post up and in order. Today’s flip is by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers and was the “B” side to his number one, million seller “Monster Mash.”

While Pickett tried to get the “A” side released on numerous labels, it was passed by them all until Gary S. Paxton took a chance and recorded, produced, and released the single on his GARPAX records. It charted right before Halloween 1962.

Paxton hired a number of session musicians including Leon Russell to play on the “Monster Mash,” which was a parody of the numerous dance related records (“The Twist,” “Peppermint Twist,” “The Mashed Potato,” and others).

While Pickett, who did the voices impressions, co-wrote the “A” side with Leonard Capizzi, he and Paxton co-wrote the “B” side – “Monsters’ Mash Party.” It is basically an instrumental with Pickett doing the monster voices. It’s the perfect example of coming up with a flip side at the last moment. “Wail, Frankie, wail.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Edgar Winter Group: Frankenstein

Being that it is TV Thursday and we are featuring Halloween themed songs this week, here is another song featured in a TV commercial, the Edgar Winter Groups’ “Frankenstein” as featured in the AT&T Radio Contest Winner ad. It seems that I know this woman from past experiences. Although I haven’t been on the air since 1994, I can still remember the names of the constant contest winners that seemed to bend the rules as much as possible when it came to contests.

Although the song is only at the very end of the commercial, it is clear that it is “Frankenstein” – a song that Edgar Winter began performing as a member of his brother’s band, Johnny Winter And. Although Frankenstein was not released officially until late 1972 with the Edgar Winter Group’s groundbreaking LP, “They Only Come Out at Night.” The original title of the cut during the Johnny Winter years was “Double Drum Solo.”

Edgar Winter drummer Chuck Ruff christened the tune as “Frankenstein” as the final product was created by numerous tape splices to get the song down to its current length. Edgar Winter plays clavinet, synthesizer, timbales, and saxophones on this tune.

The song was a number one American hit in the early summer of 1973 and reminds me of my summer after high school graduation and my first car, a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500. There were three Pittsburgh Top-40 AM stations (KQV, WIXZ, and 13Q – WKTQ) vying for listeners that summer and each seemed to play only three songs: “Frankenstein,” “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” My favorite part of the song is where the synth goes from the right speaker to the left – it’s great in headphones.

The AT&T Commercial

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John Zacherle: Dinner With Drac

Well it appears that I have taken an extended vacation and I apologize for that. My real job has kept me hopping and last week I was out of town for several days. So accept my apology for my extended absence, I hope I can get back into the swing of things.

Being that it’s a Wednesday and the week prior to Halloween, it’s time for a Halloween themed one hit wonder. John Zacherle, otherwise known as “The Cool Ghoul,” released his one hit wonder, “Dinner with Drac” during the spring of 1958. It’s not one you hear very often today and it was unusual that it peaked the charts at #6 in March rather than in October.

Zacherle as Roland

Zacherle (sometimes spelled Zacherley) had his start as a television broadcaster in Philadelphia and later served as the host of New York’s “Chiller Theatre” (not to be confused with Pittsburgh’s show of the same name), where he interspersed late night horror movies with bits and gags based on his alter ego, Roland the undertaker. “. . . and the veins of a mummy named Betty. I first frowned upon it but put ketchup on it and it tasted very much like spaghetti.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bill Champlin: In The Heat Of The Night

Bill Champlin of San Francisco has been singing for decades with the band the Sons of Champlin and later as Terry Kath’s replacement in Chicago. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist and song writer. In fact, two tunes that he coauthored received Grammy Awards.

The first of these, “After the Love has Gone,” as recorded by Earth, Wind, and Fire won a Grammy for the Best Rhythm and Blues Song in 1979 for Champlin, Jay Graydon, and David Foster. George Benson recorded “Turn Your Love Around,” which netted the Best Rhythm and Blues Song in 1982 for Champlin, Jay Graydon, and Steve Lukather.

Audiences further had the opportunity to hear Champlin’s work as he recorded the theme for the popular TV show “In the Heat of the Night.” Airing from 1986 to 1995, the show stared Carroll O’Conner and Howard Rollins who reprised the roles created by Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier in the 1967 motion picture of the same name. Great movie, good TV show, and an excellent performance by Bill Champlin – who, by the way, is my seventh cousin – my great-grandmother was a Champlin.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bert Jansch: Black Waterside

Last Wednesday, the world lost one of the great acoustic guitarists to cancer at age 67. I first heard of Bert Jansch from the recordings he made with Pentangle in the 1960s. He and his guitar partner John Renbourn were the Lennon/McCartney of English folk music and when the two played together, both with or without Pentangle, it was wonderful.

The man, of whom the general public was not aware, became the favorite of music aficionados and artists everywhere. Rolling Stone placed Jansch at 94 on their list of the top 100 guitarists. He won two BBC Lifetime Achievement Awards – one for his solo work in 2001 and one for his role in Pentangle. In 2007, Edinburgh Napier University awarded Jansch an honorary doctorate based on his contributions to the UK music industry.

Bert Jansch will be greatly missed. To honor him, here’s his rendition of “Black Waterside.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder: I'm Ready To Go

This one ought to get your blood pumping today. A little up-tempo number by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder as they do the old country gospel tune “I’m Ready to Go.” Our Spiritual Sunday selection comes from one of the Gaither videos. It goes to show that some of the best musicians in the world come from the Central Appalachian Mountains.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Alvin Lee & Mylon Lefevre So Sad (No Love Of His Own)

In 1973, Alvin Lee of Ten Years After and Mylon LeFevre formerly of the LeFevres and Mylon and Holy Smoke recorded “On the Road to Freedom.” It was a great little album that is hardly remembered now nearly 40 years later. I bought this LP as a poor college sophomore in 1974 and still enjoy it. The LP charted in 1974 at #138 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart.

The album has a star studded cast of session musicians including George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Ron Wood, Jim Capaldi, Mick Fleetwood, and the talents of Lee and Lefevre. Although our feature track “So Sad (No Love of His Own)” was not a radio standout, it was my favorite cut on the album. Mylon Lefevre handles the lead vocals on this track.

“So Sad (No Love of His Own)” is a George Harrison composition that later appeared on his 1974 LP “Dark Horse.” Because of his contract with EMI, George appears on slide guitar on this LP under the pseudonym “Hari Georgeson.” This is one of the several pseudonyms he used over time – others include L’Angelo Misterioso, George Harrysong, Nelson Wilbury, Spike Wilbury, and Geoge O’Hara-Smith.

George Harrison’s later version

Listed only as “So Sad” on George’s LP “Dark Horse,” I prefer the original version by Lee and Lefevre. The arrangement and Mylon’s vocals are much better. In my estimation, “Dark Horse” is not one of George Harrison’s best albums on Apple.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Moody Blues: Cities

Back after another day off on the blog – I think I am going to give it another year and get 1000 posts in and call it quits. I think by then, I will have exhausted my memory banks. So, I expect I will be taking a few more breaks before it is all said and done. But, there are a lot of songs until then.

It is a Friday and that means a featured flipside. “Cities,” by The Moody Blues, was only available as the “B” side of “Nights in White Satin” until 1987 when the LP “Prelude” was released. The single was released twice in the US and four times in the UK. In 1967, in support of the LP “Days of Future Passed,” it was initially released. “Nights in White Satin” failed to chart in America, but hit #19 on the UK charts.

A renewed interest in “Days of Future Passed” in 1972 resulted in a second release of “Nights in White Satin”/”Cities.” The “A” side moved to the top ten in the UK and peaked at #2 in the US. It was a number one record in Canada. It also charted in the UK in 1979 and 2010.

“Cities” is not the classic that “Nights in White Satin” is, but it is a nice little “forgotten” Justin Hayward composition. While I already had the LP when the single was re-released in 1972, I purchased it as “Cities,” to that point, was not on an album.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Desmond Dekker & The Aces: Israelites

OK, think quickly. Name all of the artists that you can who recorded for the Uni label (1966-1972 – not the later 80s version). Hmmm, there was Elton John, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John – OK, I now I have to look. There also were the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Hugh Masakela, Brian Hyland, and Desmond Dekker and the Aces.

Our one hit wonder is Desmond Dekker’s and Leslie Kong’s composition “Israelites.” The songwriting credits list Dekker’s birth name of Dacres. I remember playing this single at WWNR during the oldies format days – and so the Uni Record’s mustard yellow label is memorable to me.

Dekker was the first Jamaican to have a US hit and the first reggae recording to reach the number one slot in the UK. In 1969, “Israelites” peaked at #9 in the US despite the majority of Americans’ difficulty understanding Dekker’s thick Jamaican accent. Is it “Get up every morning baked beans for breakfast” or “Get up every morning slaving for bread sir?”

The song was re-released in the UK in 1975 where it climbed once again into the top 10. In all, “Israelites” sold two million copies.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mícheál Ó Domhnaill & Kevin Burke: Lord Franklin

In 1978, Kevin Burke and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill released their album “Promenade,” which featured one of the more beautiful renditions of the traditional English folksong “Lord Franklin.” The song from the mid 19th century was also titled “Lady Franklin’s Lament” and details the search for Sir John Franklin who set off to discover the Northwest Passage in 1845.

Franklin never returned nor was his body or final resting place ever discovered. The men of the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror died from a variety of maladies which include, but are not limited to, the following: scurvy, starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, and lead poisoning. Interestingly enough, it is said that my second great grandfather’s first cousin, John Gillon of Leith, Scotland, provided the provisions for Franklin’s voyages; however, I have yet to be able to confirm this.

The late Mícheál Ó Domhnaill is not only joined by fiddler Kevin Burke, but by his sister Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill who sings harmony.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Blackfoot: Highway Song

It’s a Monday and I need a little jumpstart to get the week off and going. So, I am going back to 1979 to the third album by Blackfoot – “Strikes.” It is one of their best albums from this Southern Rock quartet that was named in honor of the Native American heritage of three of the bands members; however, none were from tribes that were part of the Blackfoot Confederation.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Ricky Medlocke is part Sioux, bassist Greg T. Walker is of Eastern Creek heritage, and drummer Jakson Spires is part Cherokee. “Strikes” charted on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart at 42 and produced the bands only two Top 40 singles: “Highway Song” at #26 and “Train Train,” which barely made the Top 40 at #38.

It’s a really good album and one of my favorite tracks, next to “Highway Song,” is their rendition of Free’s “Wishing Well.” Have a good Monday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Lovell Sisters: In My Time Of Dyin'

Took a well needed break from the blog yesterday, but I am back with a song that has been recorded by numerous artists that include Blind Willie Johnson, Josh White, Bob Dylan, the Shocking Blue, John Sebastian, Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, and John Mellencamp to name but a few. While generally credited to Blind Willie Johnson, printed references to the song predate his recording by several years. Its actual author is unknown, and therefore it is the public domain.

The song has been recorded under the title “In my Time of Dyin’,” “Well, Well, Well,” and “Jesus Make Up my Dyin’ Bed.” Today’s selection is a very nice acoustic rendition by the Lovell Sisters that was recorded on the Music Fog Celebrity Bus on September 21, 2009.

Lead vocals are provided by the bands fiddle player Jessica Lovell. She is joined on harmony by sisters Megan and Rebecca. Megan has a nice Dobro® lead and Matt Wingate provides the excellent acoustic guitar accompaniment and flat-picking leads. This band is extremely tight. It is too bad that three sisters are no longer performing together these days.